Drinking may add calories, but they are empty calories. Alcohol offers no proteins, minerals, or vitamins, and actually blocks the absorption of vitamin A, thiamine (vitamin B1), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B12, folic acid (vitamin B9), and zinc.
Bodies need 13 vitamins (vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, as well as eight B vitamins) for normal development and function. The body can make vitamin D and vitamin K, but diet supplies the others.
Beer and wine are slightly better than hard liquor. Wines tend to have a bit of the mineral manganese, which is good for bone health, and trace amounts of other minerals. Beer has minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. It also should be noted that the benefits are small, and only when people consume alcohol in moderation.
Large amounts of alcohol can leach vitamins from the body, leading to some real health risks, including:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine or thiamin) deficiencies can lead to a potentially deadly disease called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS), which is actually a combination of two conditions — Wernicke’s disease (WD, also known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy) and Korsakoff syndrome. WKS may lead to confusion, drooping upper eyelids, the loss of muscle coordination, hallucinations, and exaggerated storytelling.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) deficiencies can lead to heart failure, peripheral neuropathy (numbness in the hands and feet), and painful dermatitis, which is inflammation of the skin.
- Vitamin B12 deficiencies can lead to megaloblastic anemia, or low red blood cell counts. Megaloblastic anemia could produce oxygen-deprived organs and tissues, numbness in the hands and feet, depression, confusion, dementia, and heart failure.
Alcohol also blocks zinc, a mineral that plays a key role in gene expression. The body converts inherited information to functional products such as protein or ribonucleic acid (RNA).
Insufficient zinc can dim one’s senses of taste and smell and cause poor night vision, depression, confusion, and irritability. Zinc deficiency can also play a role in decreased brain, liver and gut function. Not receiving enough zinc can weaken the barrier of the intestinal wall. In this condition, also known as a leaky gut, toxins can more easily reach the liver and cause disease.
Drinking too much can also deplete the body’s levels of another B vitamin, B9, also known as folic acid and folate. Folic acid is important for red blood cell production and making and repairing DNA. A shortage can lead to fatigue, tongue swelling, mouth sores, and gray hair. Longer-term alcohol abuse and folic acid deficiencies can create weakness, lethargy, and irritability.
Low folic acid levels can lead to oxidative stress, an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals. Excessive alcohol consumption can also spike the production of free radicals.
Antioxidants stabilize free radicals. An imbalance between the two can create oxidative stress that opens the gateway for aging as well as diseases such as high blood pressure, various cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease, and alcoholic liver disease.
In addition to inhibiting the absorption of vital nutrients, alcohol abuse hurts memory and retention, slashes endurance, causes dehydration, blocks the body’s healing potential, and drains energy.
Vitamin Injections for Addiction Recovery
Chronic alcoholics often suffer nutritional deficiencies and typically need more nutrients for tissue repair. Without treatment, organ damage can result.
A key goal of treatment is to reinstate the balance of nutrients. Vitamins and minerals — sometimes taken orally, and sometimes administered via IV or as a vitamin injection — can help. It’s not a cure for alcoholism, obviously, but it can help ameliorate some of the most pressing problems.
Researchers have administered folic acid to rats exposed to large amounts of alcohol. Folic acid has been found to be an efficient and affordable way to remedy some of the damage (fatigue, weakness) caused by alcohol.
Since excess alcohol consumption depletes zinc and B vitamins, some treatments center on daily doses of zinc and multivitamins, sometimes paired with lab testing to check levels, and followed by fine-tuning treatment protocols.
Vitamin Shots and IV Treatments
Sometimes people treat diseases such as alcoholism or WKS with an IV drip of vitamin B1. They also receive sometimes doses of B12. The B12 vitamin injection benefits are that they can bypass potential barriers to nutrient absorption. B12 can also be administered orally in higher doses.
Injection side effects aren’t too common; for a benzyl alcohol sensitivity, a rash or redness may result. In those cases, it may be better to administer the vitamins in another way, such as by pills, through the nose, etc.
Besides correcting some nutritional deficiencies, one might ask what does B12 do? The vitamin shots most often are used or requested because they may boost energy and impart a sense of well-being. It can help anemia, fatigue, weakness, and other problems.
There are also so-called banana bags or rally packs — souped-up IV drips — sometimes administered to people with chronic alcohol use disorders. Medical providers sometimes give these drips to clients with Wernicke’s encephalopathy, which affects 12.5 percent of alcoholics, according to some data.
IV banana bags typically contain thiamine (vitamin B1), folate (vitamin B9), magnesium, and a multivitamin dissolved in saline or dextrose. They receive the banana bags moniker from the yellow hue that the thiamine and multivitamin lend to the solution.
While alcoholics are more prone to deficiencies in folate and magnesium, a banana bag isn’t likely to fix the core problem of addiction.
As for the IV fluid itself, saline is likely to make a dehydrated person feel better, and dextrose may be good for alcoholic ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis occurs when the body produces too much acid and not enough insulin. The condition can cause abdominal pain, fatigue, agitation, confusion, slowed movement, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, and dizziness and thirst. Breathing can become irregular, deep and rapid, as well.
People with alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy — where the heart struggles to pump blood to the rest of the body — shouldn’t receive large infusions of IV fluids, period.
Some medical professionals have called the banana bag a one-size-fits-all approach. But, in most cases, tailoring treatment to the client’s individual needs is preferable.
Thiamine is the star ingredient in the banana bag. It helps treat Wernicke’s, and alcoholics tend to be deficient in thiamine. For chronic problem drinkers, more doses of thiamine and at more frequent intervals may be a better option.
Some professionals even suggest skipping the banana bag and administering an IV drip with 200 to 500 mg of thiamine every eight hours, along with smaller doses of magnesium sulfate and folate.
Medical professionals recommend that recovering addicts receive prescriptions of vitamins and minerals as part of their detoxification and treatment. The prescriptions can help with deficiencies. Minerals such as zinc can help brain function, and calcium and magnesium can help treat pain and nervous and muscular disorders that addicted individuals may experience during the drying out process. Vitamins and minerals can thus help strengthen weak bodies and restore health.
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