Understanding Nutritional Deficiencies in Alcoholics


understanding nutritional deficiencies in alcoholics

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), nearly 15 million people suffered from an alcohol use disorder in 2019.[1] Alcoholism is a serious condition that can lead to several health issues, including alcohol poisoning and organ damage. One of the long-term risks of abusing alcohol is developing deficiencies in various nutrients.

When alcohol begins to damage the organs involved in digesting, absorbing, and processing nutrients, you can develop nutritional deficiencies. If you develop nutritional deficiencies and do not receive proper treatment, you are at risk of various diseases and morbid conditions.[2]

According to the NIAAA, “Vitamins are essential to maintaining growth and normal metabolism because they regulate many physiological processes. Chronic heavy drinking is associated with deficiencies in many vitamins because of decreased food ingestion and, in some cases, impaired absorption, metabolism, and utilization.”[3]

Understanding which nutritional deficiencies are common among alcoholics can help you access the treatment you need to stay healthy.

Why Does Alcohol Abuse Cause Nutritional Deficiencies?

One of the main reasons people develop nutritional deficiencies when they are suffering from alcoholism is because the substance makes them feel full. So instead of eating healthy and balanced meals filled with nutrients, they are drinking alcohol, making it easy to develop nutritional deficiencies.

Your body treats alcohol as a toxic substance it needs to get rid of. When you drink alcohol, your body uses the nutrients it has stored to process and remove the substance as soon as possible. If you do not have enough nutrients in your liver, your body will pull nutrients from your bloodstream and other areas of your body.

Studies show that “both acute and chronic alcohol consumption can cause malnutrition by decreasing dietary caloric intake, impairing nutrient digestion and absorption, decreasing protein synthesis and secretion, increasing the catabolism of gut proteins, and increasing breakdown and excretion of nutrients.”[4]

Types of Nutritional Deficiencies Linked to Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Long-term abuse of alcohol can cause you to forget to eat and damage your organs needed for processing nutrients. If you or a loved one abuses alcohol, it’s important to be aware of the nutritional deficiencies you might be at risk of.

The types of nutrient deficiencies common among alcoholics include:

Thiamine Deficiency

While thiamine deficiencies are rare in developed countries, they remain common among alcoholics. Thiamine deficiencies are incredibly dangerous, as they can lead to a neurological disease referred to as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS), also known as wet brain.[5] This condition can lead to memory loss, muscle issues, coordination impairment, and abnormal eye movement.

Iron Deficiency

Alcohol can damage your blood, spleen, liver, and bone marrow. Experiencing this level of damage to your hematological system can significantly reduce the level of red blood cells in your body. Because of this, you can develop an iron deficiency which eventually leads to anemia.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency is common among alcoholics who are suffering from fatty liver disease.[6] If you struggle with this condition, leaving it untreated can lead to cirrhosis and eventually require you to receive a liver transplant.

Vitamin C Deficiency

When you drink excessive amounts of alcohol, you can develop a deficiency in Vitamin C because alcohol impairs the absorption of Vitamin C and speeds up its excretion through urine. This can cause you to experience issues with wound healing and your immune system.

Calcium Deficiency

Alcoholism can lead to a calcium deficiency by increasing the excretion of the substance through your urine. When you have a calcium deficiency, you are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, otherwise known as the weakening of the bones.[7]

Vitamin B6 and B12

Vitamin B6 and B12 deficiencies are common among individuals with alcohol use disorder. These nutritional deficiencies are extremely dangerous for alcoholics because they can increase the risk of conditions like Wernicke’s encephalopathy, pernicious anemia, and beriberi.

Find Help for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Today

While alcoholism can cause an array of vitamin deficiencies, recovery is possible.

At Moving Mountains Recovery Center, we prioritize the health of our clients. Our approach stands out from the average substance abuse treatment center because we make recovery rewarding and fulfilling.  While receiving individualized care to heal from addiction, clients also engage in adventure therapies, therapeutic recreation, and other hands-on activities that encourage them to make healthy decisions, consume a balanced diet, and take care of their minds and bodies.

To learn more about our alcohol rehab program in New Jersey or to find help for yourself or a loved one, please contact us today.


  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): Alcohol Facts and Statistics, Retrieved Feb 2023 from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  2. National Library of Medicine: Nutritional deficiencies in the pediatric age group in a multicultural developed country, Israel, Retrieved Feb 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4023304/
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): Alcohol and Nutrition, Retrieved Feb 2023 from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa22.htm
  4. Up to Date: Nutritional status in patients with sustained heavy alcohol use, Retrieved Feb 2023 from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/nutritional-status-in-patients-with-sustained-heavy-alcohol-use
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): The Role of Thiamine Deficiency in Alcoholic Brain Disease, Retrieved Feb 2023 from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/134-142.htm
  6. National Library of Medicine: The Adverse Effects of Alcohol on Vitamin A Metabolism, Retrieved Feb 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3367262/
  7. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: What People Recovering From Alcoholism Need To Know About Osteoporosis, Retrieved Feb 2023 from https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/conditions-behaviors/alcoholism
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