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Can Alcohol Cause Vertigo?

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Problematic alcohol use can have a wide range of physical effects on the brain and body. For example, vertigo, an uncomfortable spinning sensation, has been associated with drinking due to alcohol’s ability to impair the auditory cortex, hearing, and balance. 

If you are experiencing vertigo or other symptoms of heavy alcohol use, please contact Guardian Recovery today. Through the use of evidence-based therapy and a holistic approach to addiction treatment, we can help you overcome alcohol dependence and reclaim the happy and sober life you deserve.

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What Is Vertigo?

Vertigo is a sudden sensation of being off-balance, often triggered by head movement. It can feel as if you or the room is tilting, spinning, shifting, or being pulled in one direction. Vertigo can also be accompanied by headaches, nystagmus, ear ringing (tinnitus), or hearing loss. Severe vertigo can result in nausea or vomiting. 

Peripheral vertigo is characterized by a problem with the inner ear. Central vertigo is caused by a brain condition, such as infection, tumors, traumatic brain injury, or stroke. Vertigo episodes usually only last seconds to minutes, but in extreme cases, the condition can persist for hours, days, weeks, or longer.

How Does Drinking Affect the Inner Ear & Cause Vertigo?

Alcohol can affect the inner ear. The inner ear contains (a) the cochlea, a snail-shaped organ responsible for hearing, and (b) a vestibular organ with three semicircular canals responsible for balance. These canals, or labyrinths, let your brain know which direction your head is moving with regard to gravity and linear motion.

Due to its dehydrating effects, alcohol can decrease and alter fluid composition in the inner ear canals, potentially affecting one ear more than the other. When there is an imbalance of fluid, your ears can transmit the wrong or contradicting signals to the brain, resulting in both hearing loss and vertigo.

Alcohol & Hearing Loss

As noted, hydroxyzine is an antihistamine also approved to treat anxiety and its related symptoms, such as fear, worry, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.

Uses For Hydroxyzine Include:

  • Reducing allergy-related itching and rashes
  • Lessening nervousness before and after surgery
  • Relieving anxiety during childbirth
  • Increasing the effectiveness of opioid analgesics, such as meperidine
  • Promoting sleep
  • Easing nausea and vomiting 

Alcohol & Hearing Loss

In addition to causing dehydration, research has found that chronic drinking can damage the auditory cortex—the brain region that processes sound information. And because this harm is cumulative, consuming alcohol, even in moderation, can put you at risk for nerve damage and 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 needs to process sound, and it can be challenging to distinguish sounds and voices from background noise. 

Side Effects of Alcohol Use & Vertigo

Alcohol use can directly cause vertigo due to dehydration and its effect on inner ear fluid balances. Or, if you have a damaged auditory cortex from chronic alcoholism or another underlying condition, you can make these problems worse by continuing to drink. 

Moreover, side effects caused by vertigo or alcohol independently may be amplified when occurring together.

Side Effects of Alcohol and Vertigo Include:

  • Impaired coordination and balance
  • Dizziness
  • Feelings of tilting, swaying or shifting
  • 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

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Alcohol Use Can Make Balancing Challenging

Research has found a moderate amount of alcohol affects the vestibular system. This system provides a sense of balance and information about body position. Researchers theorize alcohol’s effects on the vestibular system might be one of the reasons for postural instability after drinking.

What Is Cocktail Deafness?

A 2007 London study found that drinking alcohol can lead to a decreased ability to understand lower frequency sounds. Also referred to as “cocktail deafness,” this condition went away after study subjects stopped drinking. However, the researchers speculated that recurrent episodes of hearing loss caused by alcohol could result in permanent damage.

Other Underlying Causes of Vertigo

Vertigo is not an independent health condition but rather a symptom of some other underlying cause. There are specific conditions that can initiate a vertigo attack, and alcohol certainly has the potential to be a catalyst. Other causes of vertigo may include:

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV): This is a condition in which vertigo is triggered by certain head positions or movements.

Meniere’s Disease: This condition is typically related to abnormal fluid buildup in only one ear, causing vertigo, tinnitus, a full feeling in the ear, and partial hearing loss. As alcohol dehydrates and reduces bodily fluid, drinking can worsen this condition if fluid levels in the healthy ear are not matched by the same reduction in the affected ear.

Upper Cervical Misalignment (UCM): A UCM is an interference to the normal flow of the nervous system. This occurs when the first and second bones in your neck shift off your spine’s center, causing your head and neck to be misaligned. Misalignment can adversely impact brainstem function and how spatial orientation and balance-related messages from the ears are perceived. UCMs can also affect ear function by altering how the Eustachian tubes drain excess fluid.

Labyrinthitis: This condition describes an infection or inflammation of the inner ear labyrinth. This area contains the vestibulocochlear nerve, which transmits messages to the brain concerning sound, head motion, and position. Symptoms of labyrinthitis can include ear pain, hearing loss, tinnitus, headache, and vision changes.

Vestibular Neuritis: This condition is similar to labyrinthitis but only affects the vestibular nerve and does not alter hearing. Common symptoms include vertigo, nausea, and blurry vision.

Cholesteatoma: This is a non-cancerous skin growth that develops in the middle ear in response to repeated ear infections. Symptoms include vertigo, dizziness, and hearing loss.

Vestibular Migraine: This type of migraine may or may not involve headaches but generally includes symptoms such as vertigo, imbalance, nausea, and vomiting. This condition isn’t fully understood, though it appears to be related to overlapping pathways that regulate pain and vestibular inputs into the brain. 

When Should You Seek Help for Alcohol Use Disorder?

If you are having difficulty controlling your drinking, you may have a diagnosable condition known as alcohol use disorder.

Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder Include:

  • Drinking more alcohol or for longer than planned
  • Continuing to drink despite experiencing adverse effects
  • Experiencing blackouts or memory loss
  • Having withdrawal symptoms, such as cravings, anxiety, and tremors
  • Having frequent hangovers or needing a “hair of the dog” to calm your nerves
  • Needing to drink increasing amounts to experience the desired effects
  • Spending a significant amount of time drinking or being hungover
  • Trying to quit or cut back on alcohol use but failing to do so
  • Obsessing over obtaining alcohol and the next time you can drink

If you have an alcohol use disorder, you may have experienced many of these effects. To know for sure, you should seek a clinical diagnosis from addiction professionals.

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Vertigo is a symptom of other causes and conditions that affect the brain or ears. Alcohol use, especially when excessive or chronic, can result in inner ear fluid imbalance and damage to the auditory cortex and lead to hearing loss. 

If you are a heavy drinker experiencing vertigo, discontinuing alcohol use could possibly reduce or eliminate some or all of your symptoms. Please contact Guardian Recovery today to learn more about how we can help you break the cycle of alcohol addiction for good. We offer a free, no-obligation health insurance benefits check.

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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.

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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:

Cayla Clark

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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