Alcohol and the risk of dementia

There is enough evidence to show that excessive alcohol consumption increases a person’s risk of developing dementia. Alcohol-related dementia can produce a variety of psychiatric problems including psychosis (disconnection from reality), depression, anxiety, and personality changes. However, these studies vary in their results due to the differences in the regularity of assessments, definitions of consumption amounts, length of the studies, and changes in consumption throughout lifetimes.

  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome can occur due to other conditions, but misuse of alcohol is a common underlying factor for its development due to long-term vitamin deficiency.
  • It can be difficult to stop using alcohol, even if it’s causing alcohol-related dementia signs to occur.
  • The interplay between cortisol dysregulation, heightened norepinephrine levels, and structural alterations in key brain regions make some individuals more susceptible to PTSD than others.
  • Such trials would be situated predominantly in the primary health-care system, where screening and brief interventions have been shown to reduce the heavy use of alcohol [86] and where many of the less severe AUDs can be treated [87].
  • This is a common deficiency in people who misuse alcohol, but it can also occur due to other disorders or conditions.

At one year, 31% had developed a psychiatric disorder, most commonly depression or a generalized anxiety disorder. However, 6% had developed PTSD, and the odds of PTSD were double for those with mild TBI. This is in keeping with the idea that a mild injury leaves many of the neurobiological pathways involved in PTSD dysfunctional but not afunctional.

What Is Alcohol Anyway?

Others have experienced headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion and vision changes. In January 2023, Eisai won FDA approval for its amyloid beta-busting drug, lecanemab. Sold under the brand name Leqembi, the drug is intended for patients in the early stages of the disease, the population studied in clinical trials. Medicare and Medicaid will cover the bulk of that, spending $231 billion this year to care for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Public and private spending to take care of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients will skyrocket to nearly $1 trillion in 2050, the report projects. The nation’s aging population will create profound economic and social challenges.

  • Research suggests it’s possible to experience partial recovery of your brain’s white matter, which is accompanied by an improvement in cognitive and motor abilities.
  • Dementia is an umbrella term for a variety of conditions that affect a person’s processing skills and memory.
  • Additional terms included Wernicke’s encephalopathy, Korsakoff, and Alcohol Amnestic Disorder.
  • However, if one abuses alcohol throughout many years, this doesn’t only lead to liver cirrhosis, but also a condition called alcoholic dementia.

Multiple research and observational studies have demonstrated that people who drink high amounts of alcohol are at an increased risk of developing dementia. Alcohol-related brain damage may account for approximately 10% of all dementia cases. Estimates of past drinking habits of individuals diagnosed with ARD have included up to 60 years of drinking (and up to 120 drinks a week at heaviest), although there is significant variability in length and severity of drinking [34]. Oslin and colleagues [35] suggested that a five-year history of consuming 35 standard drinks a week for men and 28 for women constitutes a sufficient level of neurotoxic burden to risk the development of ARD, but this needs verification.


“Alcoholic dementia” is an older term commonly used to describe the medical condition now known as alcohol-related dementia or alcohol-induced major neurocognitive disorder. These terms are used interchangeably and describe a severe form of alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD). People who give up alcohol may have health problems that cause them to stop. This may mean they have an increased dementia alcohol and dementia risk to lifetime non-drinkers. Combining both into the same group makes the non-drinking group seem like they had a higher risk of dementia than if lifetime non-drinkers were considered separately. NICE Guidelines recommend that alcohol consumption be reduced as much as possible, particularly in mid-life, to minimize the risk of developing age-related conditions such as frailty and dementia.

Another hypothesis is that thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency is primarily responsible for the development of ARD. Individuals with alcohol use disorders are at particularly high risk of thiamine deficiency, not only from poor dietary nutrition but because alcohol directly compromises thiamine metabolism [16]. Not all individuals with WE show the triad of neurological symptoms, and the severity of signs is likely related to the extent of the underlying pathology [17]. To increase diagnostic accuracy of WE, refined operational criteria specify a minimum of two symptoms for diagnosis, a guideline recently endorsed by the European Federation of Neurological Societies (EFNS) [18,19]. Long-term outcomes of WE can include development of a syndrome of profound memory impairment – Korsakoff syndrome (KS) – that appears to be related to additional disruption to diencephalic and hippocampal circuitry. As KS shares similar pathological substrates and often follows an episode of WE, it is commonly referred to as the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome [1].

What are the symptoms of alcohol-related ‘dementia’?

People in this stage have more severe memory loss and find daily tasks to be more difficult. People may start to forget family members and close friends, and may find it harder to communicate. Alcohol-related dementia is a broad term and can describe multiple conditions related to alcohol use that affects the brain. In most cases, determining the life expectancy of someone with alcohol-related dementia is also complicated by a history of heavy alcohol use, causing other alcohol-related problems that also shorten life expectancy. In the long-term, chronic alcohol use increases the risk of permanent brain damage.

  • Supporting a person with alcohol-related ‘dementia’ can be challenging for their carer, friends and family.
  • Various psychological factors also contribute to acquiring alcohol-related dementia as well as how prone is one person to get a mental illness.
  • They should also take an account from someone who knows the person well, as this can help if the person has gaps in their memory.
  • It can reduce the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
  • Alcohol use disorder is characterized by excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption, an inability to stop drinking, and impairments in social, professional, and personal functioning due to alcohol use [1].

If you or a loved one is living with AUD, it can be challenging to stop drinking. Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous if you abruptly stop drinking after consuming large amounts of alcohol for a long time. Abstinence of up to one year is linked with improved attention, working memory, and problem-solving abilities. However, learning and short-term memory impairments may be more difficult to reverse even with abstinence. Early treatment is the key to successfully treating alcohol-related dementia.

Alcohol-related dementia

MRI brain scans show that alcohol use causes certain parts of the brain to shrink over time. Patients with ARD and WKS have shown cognitive improvement following treatment with memantine, although these findings require replication [68,69]. Finally, these socially isolated patients are often hospitalized for another health condition and this presents an ideal opportunity for screening, identification, and intervention. A person may consider joining support groups or attending counseling or therapy if alcohol use is impairing their quality of life in the short and long term. JR and OSMH performed the main systematic searches and the methodological studies to assure inter-rater reliability.

alcoholism and dementia

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