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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Salty beer...

Riley’s drink of choice these days is beer. As I’ve said before… 1 can of beer equals one shot of hard liquor. No news there. But what I didn’t know was that 95% of a can of beer is water. That was encouraging because, in my mind, I was thinking “how bad could that be?” Well… it turns that it is very bad because beer has no sodium.

I’ve noticed that Riley’s modes operandi is different when he is drinking beer rather than vodka. He is obviously getting sicker, but the “sick” is different than it was before. I did a lot of research and didn’t come with anything until yesterday.

Beer Potomania (which develops into hyponatremia) is a syndrome that relates to low sodium levels in the bloodstream as a result of ingesting large quantities of beer. The larger quantity of beer means large quantities of water because a can of beer is 95% water. That means that the sodium in the bloodstream is diluted by the excess of water. 

When you combine that with the loss of sodium through vomiting and diarrhea the situation is further compromised. Other factors include a diet low in protein and low intake of potassium, which is common in alcoholics.

Because the body is not excreting the amount of water it takes in, the cells absorb the excess water and swell. The brain begins to swell and pushes on the skull which has limited space for expansion of the brain.

Some symptoms of low sodium levels include: irritability, headache, confusion, lethargy, muscle aches or spasms. As the brain swells, symptoms will eventually lead to personality changes, hallucinations, decreased levels of consciousness, seizures and coma, and then, ultimately, death.

So now, along with all the related complications of being an alcoholic, such as, hepatic encephalopathy, cirrhosis, vitamin and mineral deficiency, we now also have this issue of low sodium. When Riley was drinking vodka, he was using a mixer – strawberry soda was one of his favs. The soda contains sodium. So he would not have had the low sodium issue as a result. In fact his sodium level was probably too high. He now drinks approximately 16 cans of beer a day. Anything over six cans a day is considered to be excessive according to several websites.

It all makes more sense to me now. Riley only eats one meal a day. Even though, the meal is very small – it is still a meal. He always salts everything on his plate. So sometime through the night (because he picks at his food all through the night), he is taking in sodium. In the morning, when I wake up, we are able to have a relatively decent discussion probably because his sodium levels are higher than at any other time. But, as the day progresses his sodium level is diluted making him more and more unreasonable.

I’m not a medical professional, so I’m not sure if my theory holds water. But it sounds right to me. It was strange that I had to do a lot of Googling and Binging to find anything about how vodka drinking differs from beer drinking. But once I knew what terms to use, I actually found quite a bit of information. It was difficult to understand the equations about how much the kidneys will excrete versus daily intake, but even if I got some of this wrong – I think my general theory may be correct.

I shared this knowledge with Riley. I didn’t expect any light to come on in his head and say – “Hey, I’m gonna quit!!” I’m not that naïve. However, I do find that the more knowledge I have, the more sense it makes. And the more sense it makes the easier it is for me to cope and know what’s ahead. As I have said many times before in this blog – knowledge is key. Educate yourself. It won’t change the alcoholic, but it will help the caretaker dealing with confusion and conflict.

If anyone knows more about this syndrome – please post a comment and share your knowledge.

4 comments:

Syd said...

I am sure that you have seen this article:
http://alcalc.oxfordjournals.org/content/35/6/612.full
Evidently, the condition can also occur without drinking. But it certainly appears to be of concern in chronic alcoholic beer drinkers. Very educational material.

jo said...

interesting! makes sense...and i am not surprised it took so long to find anything. i cant find much of anything online or anywhere else re end stage stuff. they say dumb things like "dont drink with this medication" or "if you have xyz stop drinking". how helpful! what about the ones who DONT? my As sodium is staying right at 136 so. range is 135-145.

anything more than 3 drinks a day is excessive.

thanks for sharing linda!

Linda (Immortal Alcoholic's Wife) said...

Syd -- Thanks for the link. I went there and -- yes -- I read it during my research. It's a little difficult to understand all the calculations -- I like things cut and dry.

And -- yes -- even non-drinkers can have this problem. Anyone who has an excessive intake of water is susceptible to this if they don't balance the water with a proper diet and sodium intake.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Linda...I always learn something when I read this blog. I'm no longer with my alcoholic husband but only because my self-respect took over after the infidelity began. I still find the need to try to understand the madness of it all and you certainly help me to do that. He was initially a beer drinker but after reading this, so much more makes sense. Isn't it amazing how many ailments get blamed on everything but the alcohol?