Alcohol and Dementia What is the Link? A Systematic Review PMC

Finally, alcohol-related brain damage may be present in infants subjected to alcohol while in the womb. There is noknown safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy because of the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome . Alcohol travels through the umbilical cord to the fetus, where the undeveloped body is unable to process the substance properly. In the US, half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and women may not know they are pregnant until weeks 4 to 6. Thus, the risk of developing FAS is high in women who drink without using effective forms of contraception. Patients with ARD are often hospitalized for other physical comorbidities and one should be vigilant enough to screen, identify and manage it at the same time. Internationally, the challenges of developing evidence-based guidelines for social work practice in dementia care are generating a lot of interest.

It’s characterized by eye movement problems, discoordination and confusion. If Wernicke’s encephalopathy is not reversed, it leads to a more permanent condition called Korsakoff syndrome. Behaviors can be unpredictable and uninhibited, and communication is difficult and could become impossible. Unlike many forms of dementia, alcohol-related dementia may be reversible depending on the circumstances.


The role of alcohol use as a risk factor for dementia is complicated. At different times, alcohol has been seen as protective, harmful, or incidental to the risk of dementia. Each of these views is partially correct, and the entire story is not yet fully known.

Is it common for alcoholics to get dementia?

People who binge drink or drink heavily are more likely to develop dementia and be diagnosed at earlier ages compared to nondrinkers. This risk increases as people drink more heavily and over longer periods of time.

Other reports suggest that ARD and WKS are distinct disorders with overlapping clinical profile . Adding vitamin B1 to your diet may help minimize the nutritional deficiency damage of alcohol use disorder. For people with Wernicke encephalopathy, vitamin B1 may prevent or reduce the risk of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

Cross-Sectional Studies

The best way to prevent alcohol-related dementia is to refrain from drinking. A simple test for intellectual function, like the Folstein Mini-Mental Status Examination, is the minimum screen for dementia.

  • Conversely, moderate alcohol use appears to have a detrimental impact on brain structure and may therefore increase dementia risk.
  • For people with Wernicke encephalopathy, vitamin B1 may prevent or reduce the risk of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
  • GRC is committed to the health and wellness of all of our clients and staff.
  • According to 2013 research, thiamine supplementation can help alleviate symptoms of WKS, which is caused by a thiamine deficiency.

Alcohol-related dementia presents as a global deterioration in intellectual function with memory not being specifically affected, but it may occur with other forms of dementia, resulting in a wide range of symptoms. Certain individuals with alcohol-related dementia present with damage to the frontal lobes of their brain causing disinhibition, loss of planning and executive functions, and a disregard for the consequences of their behavior. Other types of alcohol-related dementia such as Wernicke encephalopathy cause the destruction of certain areas of the brain, where changes in memory, primarily a loss of short-term memory, are the main symptom.

Causes of Alcohol-Related Dementia

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 and where many of the less severe AUDs can be treated . Finally, as the addition of new analyses of existing and ongoing cohort studies will also be affected by the previously noted limitations, there is a need for future studies to address these limitations. This scoping review was limited by the large amount of heterogeneity in the operationalization of outcomes and the small degree of overlap of underlying studies between reviews .

Raised gamma glutamyl transferase and macrocytosis are useful biological markers of alcohol consumption. Magnetic resonance imaging of brain may support Wernicke encephalopathy’s diagnosis . Treatment with thiamine should be started immediately without waiting for the results.

Korsakoff’s and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Thiamine deficiency or Vitamin B1 deficiency is common with dementia and alcoholism due to a poor diet. Cognitive Impairment affects verbal skills, mental processing, memory, learning, and impulse control. The areas of the brain related to problem-solving and impulse control are often damaged the most.

How much alcohol does it take to cause dementia?

Conclusion The risk of dementia was increased in people who abstained from alcohol in midlife or consumed >14 units/week. In several countries, guidelines define thresholds for harmful alcohol consumption much higher than 14 units/week.

But when you add the effects of heavy alcohol use, memory loss can be very serious. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a type of dementia linked to heavy alcohol use. It’s possible that a person can prevent this syndrome from getting worse, but they usually must stop drinking and enhance their nutrient intake. Many social drinkers have experienced a blackout after drinking too much alcohol on an empty stomach. Not can alcoholism cause dementia remembering where you were or what you did the night before is a frightening experience, but it pales in comparison to the type of permanent memory impairment that can come from chronic alcohol abuse. Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s syndrome are both due to brain damage from a lack of thiamine. They cause various symptoms to develop in a person, which affects both physical and mental functions.

Medication for Alcoholism Treatment

Higher levels of alcohol consumption are linked with elevated triglycerides and raised blood pressure, with increased risk for the formation of clots inside of blood vessels and strokes. Overall alcohol abuse — classified as when alcohol consumption negatively impacts work or social life or leads to legal ramifications — is present in 1.7 percent of older adults in the United States. Previous research has identified lifelong alcohol abuse as a risk factor for dementia.

can alcoholism cause dementia

Most presentations of alcohol dementia are somewhere along the spectrum between a global dementia and Korsakoff’s psychosis, and may include symptoms of both. ARBD is not necessarily confined to those with alcohol use disorder, as many people vacillate between healthy and unhealthy alcohol use throughout their lives, and can accumulate damage without forming a dependence. Because sensitivity to alcohol varies greatly from person to person, experts have been hesitant to say exactly how much alcohol use puts one at risk for ARBD. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism guidelines say the risk of serious health issues is low for men who have no more than 14 drinks a week, or 4 on a single day, and women who have no more than 7 drinks a week or 3 on a single day. If that were not sufficient cause for concern, researchers on alcohol-related brain damage also point out that thiamine deficiency frequently accompanies excessive alcohol use. Alcohol disrupts thiamine metabolism, and heavy drinkers may also neglect balanced nutrition. “An early and appropriate diagnosis in those patients is paramount for providing the best management, improving patients’ and families’ quality of life, and channeling patients to appropriate care facilities.”

Heavy Drinking and Risk of Dementia

We have credentialed medical doctors & clinicians who specialize in addiction treatment review the information on our website before it is published. We use credible sources such as government websites and journal articles when citing statistics or other medically related topics. If a person uses it heavily long-term, they’re at risk for a number of memory-related health conditions. If your healthcare provider has advised you to stop drinking entirely, it’s important to follow their advice. For people who drink daily and heavily, there isn’t always a safe or moderate amount of alcohol consumed.

can alcoholism cause dementia

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