If you’re a long-term alcohol drinker, you may notice that side effects develop over the years. You probably know about all the typical health effects of alcohol use, such as skin changes and weight gain. But did you know that alcohol can cause you to have trouble using your hands?

A common cause of hand trouble with alcohol addiction is Dupuytren’s contracture. Dupuytren’s contracture happens when your body develops thickened tissue under the skin. This extra tissue makes it difficult to straighten your fingers or use your hand normally.

Not all difficulty using your hands is the result of Dupuytren’s contracture. There are other alcohol-related side effects that can make it hard to use your hands, like tremors or Parkinsonian symptoms.

But if you do have Dupuytren’s contracture, then it’s important to get it diagnosed. You can treat the pain and functional problems associated with this condition. This condition doesn’t reverse itself if you stop drinking (but it’s still important to stop drinking!)

Here’s what you should know about Dupuytren’s contracture and alcohol:

What is Dupuytren’s Contracture?

Dupuytren’s contracture is a medical condition that causes thickening in the tissue layer underneath the skin of your palm. That thickening leads to a cordlike build-up of tissue that pulls the fingers into a bent position. 

The result is the stiffening of that part of your hand, which can cause a loss of function. You might experience pain or discomfort when you grasp or write with that hand.

This condition almost always affects the pinky and ring finger. It’s rare for the other fingers to be affected.

What Are the Signs of Dupuytren’s Contracture?

If you’re having trouble using your hands and fingers normally, you should ask your doctor to check for signs of Dupuytren’s contracture. The earlier you recognize the signs, the better the chances you can halt the damage.

You might have Dupuytren’s contracture if you have these signs:

  • An inability to lay your palm flat on the table
  • Pain when moving your hand or fingers
  • Trouble straightening your pinky, ring, or middle finger
  • Trouble grasping objects

The longer you experience the condition, the more likely you are to have physical signs of tissue change on your hands. Depending on how far the condition has progressed, you might have signs such as:

  • A sensitive lump of tissue on your palm
  • Cords of tissue on your palm
  • Dimpled or puckered skin on your palms

These tissue changes usually aren’t painful, but they can be if the condition is severe.

Does Alcohol Cause Dupuytren’s Contracture?

Multiple studies have shown a link between Dupuytren’s contracture and alcohol abuse. One study found that 28% of patients with alcoholic liver disease had Dupuytren’s contracture.

Another study found that men who have Dupuytren’s contracture are more likely to be heavy drinkers.

What’s interesting is that 22% of patients with non-alcoholic liver disease develop Dupuytren’s contracture, according to the first study.

There is a link between alcohol and this condition, but it could be the liver damage that results from alcohol causing the contracture.

However, a later study found that:

  • Only 6% of patients with non-alcoholic liver disease had Dupuytren’s contracture
  • People with alcohol use disorder (AUD) were more likely to have Dupuytren’s contracture even if they didn’t have liver disease

It’s unclear why the two studies came to different conclusions about the association between liver disease and Dupuytren’s contracture.

The later study could have done a better job controlling external factors, such as other drug use or other health conditions. It also took place with a larger sample size, which makes its results more likely to be accurate. 

Or it’s possible that the link is between AUD and the changes that occur in your blood vessels after long-term alcohol use. Blood vessel problems can cause tissue changes and function problems, which are both present with Dupuytren’s.

What Are the Risk Factors for Dupuytren’s Contracture?

Some people have a higher risk of developing Dupuytren’s contracture. That includes older people, men, and even people with Dupuytren’s contracture. Your risk may be higher if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Age: People who are older than 50 are more likely to develop Dupuytren’s contracture.
  • Sex: Men are more likely to be affected than women, and they are at risk for more severe disease.
  • Health: If you have a history of diabetes or liver disease, you are more likely to develop Dupuytren’s.
  • Substance use: In addition to alcohol, other drugs can increase the risk of Dupuytren’s contracture. That includes any drug that you smoke, such as tobacco, marijuana, or even heroin.
  • Family history: If you have immediate family members who have Dupuytren’s contracture, you’re more likely to be at risk.

In general, you’re at a higher risk for alcohol-related side effects if you have a history of long-term or heavy use. The toxic effect of alcohol can be cumulative and increase over time, causing conditions like Dupuytren’s.

Can You Treat Dupuytren’s Contracture?

Not all cases of Dupuytren’s contracture require treatment. If you have a mild case that doesn’t affect your hand function, it’s probably safe to wait and see how it progresses.

However, you can get treatment for Dupuytren’s if it’s affecting your ability to use your hand or if it’s causing you pain.

The most common treatments for Dupuytren’s contracture include:

  • Needling: This method uses a fine needle to break the cords of tissue underneath your skin. This helps loosen up the tissue, allowing your mobility to improve. This procedure is effective and it doesn’t take much recovery time or physical therapy. However, it’s common for the contracture to occur again, so you might need repeated treatments.
  • Enzyme injections: Collagenase enzymes like Xiaflex can help weaken the tissue cords and soften them up. These injections are often followed up with your doctor manipulating the tissue to break it up once it’s soft. Like needling, enzyme injections are non-invasive, but your condition may recur later.
  • Surgery: If you have a severe contracture and it hasn’t responded to needling or enzymes, then surgery is an option. Surgery removes all of the thickened tissue that’s constricting your movement. Surgery is the most effective and long-lasting treatment. However, recovery can take a long time and involve lots of physical therapy. 

Find Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

If alcohol addiction is causing you health problems, such as Dupuytren’s contracture, then it’s time to get help. The health effects of alcohol can be permanent, and Dupuytren’s is only one of many. The longer you use alcohol, the more likely it is to have a severe impact on your health.

A quality treatment center can help you recover through evidence-based treatments, such as:

  • Medical detox to help you manage alcohol withdrawal safely
  • Residential inpatient with programming that includes recovery education, groups, therapy, and more
  • An aftercare plan to keep you in recovery long beyond your stay

Search through our directory to find a quality treatment center near you! 

Sources:

  1. Dupuytren’s contracture – Symptoms and causes
  2. The association between alcohol, hepatic pathology and dupuytren’s disease
  3. Dupuytren’s Contracture, Alcohol Consumption, and Chronic Liver Disease
  4. Dupuytren’s contracture and alcohol.
  5. Alcohol and Dupuytren’s


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