Alcoholism and Vertigo

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Vertigo occurs due to miscommunication with signals that coordinate balance and position in the brain. This produces a feeling of movement in one’s surroundings when there is no movement. People may feel symptoms of being off balance, spinning, whirling, or falling. The brain uses input from four sensory systems to maintain balance and orientation to one’s surroundings. These sensory systems include vision, sensory nerves, skin pressure, and the inner ear. Not only does vertigo develop from sensory systems, but did you know that excessive alcohol use can contribute to developing vertigo?

Let’s understand the relationship between alcohol and vertigo, how alcohol affects the brain, and how you can treat alcohol use disorder and vertigo.

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The Relationship Between Alcohol & Vertigo

Some research studies show that alcohol can cause vertigo in several ways. 1. Alcohol impairs the central nervous system, impacts balance and coordination, and may contribute to feelings of dizziness or lightheadedness. 2. Health experts believe alcohol causes blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood supply to the inner ear and worsening symptoms of vertigo for people with Meniere’s disease. 3. Alcohol is a diuretic that dehydrates people from water. People with dehydration may experience vertigo symptoms if they do not pair alcohol with water.

Additionally, side effects caused by vertigo or alcohol are magnified when combined.

Side Effects of Alcohol & Vertigo Include:

  • Impaired coordination and balance.
  • Dizziness.
  • Feelings of tilting, swaying.
  • Feelings of motion sickness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Impaired hearing.
  • Lethargy.
  • Reduced inhibitions and impulsivity.
  • Memory loss.
  • Slurred or slowed speech.

Severe Effects of Alcohol Intoxication Include:

  • Cyanosis (pale or bluish skin, fingers, and toes).
  • Profound confusion.
  • Slowed, labored, or stopped breathing.
  • Seizures.
  • Continuous vomiting.
  • Stupor or lack of responsiveness.
  • Unconsciousness or coma.

Side Effects of Alcohol Use & Vertigo

As mentioned earlier, alcohol creates dehydration in individuals. The symptoms of dehydration can also trigger vertigo. According to the National Library of Medicine, here are the signs of dehydration.

Symptoms of Dehydration:

  • Dizziness.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Dark urine.

Additionally, research indicates that alcohol, among other drugs, can cause harmful effects such as tinnitus, hearing deficits, and vertigo. Some authors believe alcoholism causes premature brain aging, which would contribute to hearing deficits, balance issues, and impaired neurological functioning.

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How Alcohol Affects the Brain & Ears

We have discussed the risks associated with alcohol and how it can lead to impaired neurological functioning. However, you may not know that alcohol can also impact hearing resulting in hearing loss for some individuals.

In addition to neurological damage, research has found that chronic drinking can damage the central auditory cortex, the part of the brain that processes sound information. Because this damage is cumulative, consuming alcohol, even in moderation, can put you at risk for nerve damage and permanent hearing impairment.

The auditory nerve’s function is to transfer the sounds we hear to the auditory cortex, where it’s typically translated and understood. However, when long-term alcohol use damages the auditory cortex, we may not be able to understand the sound that’s been transferred. Consequently, it can take more time for the brain to process sound, and it can be challenging to distinguish sounds and voices from background noise.

Alcohol, the Inner Ear & Vertigo

The inner ear is responsible for both hearing and balance. When alcohol disrupts hearing and coordination, it results in problems with dizziness, spinning, and vertigo. Alcohol is absorbed into the inner ear fluid, which changes the fluid composition in the ear. This change leads to feelings of dizziness and imbalance. This is why a person may experience the room spinning after drinking alcohol.

Alcohol, Brain Cell Signals & Vertigo

As previously discussed, alcohol interacts with GABA, a neurotransmitter responsible for communication with the central nervous system. GABA and alcohol do not mix. The primary role of GABA is to regulate the nervous system in the body. It is responsible for balance, thinking, alertness, and the ability to move. The problem with alcohol is that when a person consumes alcohol, it depletes GABA production, which often shows short-term and long-term side effects during intoxication.

One of the side effects of alcohol and GABA depletion are symptoms of vertigo. One specific type of treatment for vertigo consists of medication stimulating the action of GABA in the central nervous system to relieve dizziness and anxiety.

Can You Drink Alcohol With Vertigo?

Due to the risks of alcohol intensifying symptoms of vertigo, it is not recommended to consume alcohol if you have a history of dizziness or other conditions associated with vertigo, such as Meniere’s disease, labyrinthitis, or BPPV.

Vertigo is not an independent health condition but a symptom of another underlying cause. Certain conditions can trigger a vertigo attack, and alcohol is a known activating agent, especially in the following conditions.

Conditions Associated with Vertigo: 

  • Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) – This is a condition in which certain head positions or movements trigger vertigo.
  • Meniere’s Disease-This condition is typically related to abnormal fluid buildup in only one ear resulting in vertigo symptoms.
  • Upper Cervical Misalignment (UCM) – UCM interferes with the normal nervous system flow, causing your head and neck to be misaligned.
  • Labyrinthitis- describes an infection or inflammation of the inner ear labyrinth.
  • Vestibular Neuritis-This condition is similar to labyrinthitis but only affects the vestibular nerve and does not alter hearing.
  • Cholesteatoma – This non-cancerous skin growth develops in the middle ear in response to repeated ear infections.
  • Vestibular Migraine – This type of migraine may or may not involve headaches but generally includes symptoms such as vertigo, imbalance, nausea, and vomiting.

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If you are concerned about chronic conditions related to alcohol use disorder, we’re here to help. When you call, we’ll link you with a Treatment Advisor who will conduct a free assessment over the phone. The information gathered will help create an individualized plan to meet your needs. We also offer a free, no-obligation health insurance benefit check if you are insured.

We work with most major health insurance providers, ensuring our programs remain as accessible as possible to those who need them. However, we will help you explore alternatives, such as self-pay and private pay, if you are uninsured or underinsured.

It can be frightening to reach out for help, and our goal is to ensure our streamlined process is stress-free from beginning to end. Contact us today to begin your new life in recovery.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/dizzi
  2. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/older-adults-and-balance-problems
  3. https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD012173.pub2/full
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK555956/
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1808869415311320
  6. https://www.hear-it.org/Alcohol-can-cause-hearing-loss
  7. https://www.gbhoh.com/gaba-and-alcohol-how-drinking-leads-to-anxiety/#:~:text=The%20main%20issue%20between%20GABA,%2D%20and%20long%2Dterm%20symptoms.
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28248609/

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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