Alcohol and Dementia: What’s The Connection?

Studies suggest that people who engage in binge drinking, rather than practicing moderate drinking, are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than any other type of dementia. When one thinks of dementia, they may not necessarily consider alcohol as one of its primary agonists (in other words, something that encourages the onset of dementia). Instead, they may guess that age is the primary factor when considering what contributes to the development of dementia and its related illnesses. However, multiple researchers in the field of Alzheimer’s-related diseases and alcoholism are now exploring the possibility that excessive and long term alcohol use could be a catalyst for early-onset dementia.

Alcohol abuse and binge drinking can affect the regeneration of brain cells. The effects of alcohol can also cause immense inflammation in the body, which is connected to many chronic diseases, according to recent research.

Woman with dementia holds a glass of alcohol and grabs her head while struggling to remember something shows connection between alcohol and dementia.

Some people may react differently to alcohol than others, making self-knowledge crucial for those who may have increased sensitivity to it. Read on to learn more about what Hotel California by the Sea considers a rampant problem in the United States: alcohol-related dementia onset and other alcohol-induced health conditions.

Hotel California by the Sea offers integrative and evidence-based therapies for those suffering from alcohol abuse and all types of alcohol use disorders. Learn more today: (800) 762-6717.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term for multiple brain disorders that result in many channels of declining cognitive functioning. Dementia includes diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease and others. There are numerous types of dementia, including Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a neurological disorder related to alcoholism that we’ll discuss in the next section.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s accounts for around 60-80% of dementia illnesses.

Dementia may be a slow-burning brain disease or may consist of the rapid onset of especially distressing symptoms. Some symptoms of dementia include:

  • Decreased memory function (especially with short-term memory).
  • Forgetting to pay bills.
  • Forgetting to eat.
  • Trouble with remembering appointments, such as doctors’ appointments.
  • Losing important items, such as keys or wallet.

These symptoms could indicate a significant decline in brain function and may vary from person to person in severity and nature.

Alcohol, Dementia, And Brain Damage

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, excessive alcohol use can damage the brain and cause significant cognitive decline. However, moderate drinking has not yet been linked to an increased likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related disorders. In some cases, alcohol is shown to contribute to healthier brain function.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that moderate drinking doesn’t have some type of effect on the possibility of getting dementia earlier or more severely. The effects of alcohol on one’s body vary per individual.

Older man with brain damage from alcohol holds a large glass of beer, with his other hand on his forehead.

Alcohol also tends to cause immense inflammation throughout the body, leading to several chronic health conditions. Some of these conditions include:

  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Various cancers, such as liver cancer, mouth cancer, and throat cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

What Is Alcohol-Related Brain Damage?

The Alzheimer’s Society defines Alcohol-Related Brain Damage, or ARBD, as a “long-term decline in memory or thinking caused by excessive alcohol use and a lack of vitamin B1 (thiamine). Thiamine is needed to provide energy to the body.”

Thiamine and the other B vitamins are also crucial players in proper neurological and psychological functioning. Without these vitamins, you may see certain diseases arise, such as Alzheimer’s or Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Read more on this alcohol-related illness below.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a highly debilitating neurological disorder typically linked to excess alcohol use. It is often referred to as “alcohol dementia” or “alcohol-related dementia”.

As mentioned above, this disease is highly linked to vitamin deficiencies, such as thiamine and other B vitamins, generally caused by heavy drinking. Vitamin deficiencies related to alcohol abuse may occur due to poor diets and excessive vomiting.

Thiamine deficiency and dementia go hand-in-hand. The body needs thiamine for energy and healthy nerve and brain cell functioning. Without this essential B vitamin, the chances of dementia illnesses are much, much higher.

A person suffering from Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, again according to the Alzheimer’s Society, may suffer from the following symptoms:

  • Reduced ability to organize.
  • Decreased ability to plan or complete tasks.
  • Slower reasoning skills.
  • Increased impulsivity.
  • Poor judgment.
  • Trouble with making decisions (even simple ones!).
  • Lack of empathy and sensitivity to others.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be exhibiting signs of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, contact a mental health professional today.

Remain aware that those who abstain from alcohol have a decent chance of partially or fully recovering from Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome and other alcohol-related brain damage.

How Much Alcohol Is Safe To Consume?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), alcohol affects every organ in someone’s body, such as the liver, brain, and heart.

One standard drink in the United States equates to 0.6 ounces of pure ethanol (the type of alcohol we consume). In your daily life, this might equal something like 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of “hard liquor” (like a shot). For men, consuming more than 15 of these drinks categorizes them as heavy drinkers in the CDC’s eyes. For women, this number is reduced to 8 drinks per week.

However, this question is relative to the individual choosing to drink. Specific health problems, genetic predispositions, the medications you’re on, and mental health conditions can make drinking more or less dangerous. It’s best to discuss your drinking habits with a medical health professional, such as your family doctor, before choosing to start consuming alcohol.

If you do not drink, it may be best to never start as opposed to trying to moderate your drinking.

Why Early Addiction Intervention Matters

The longer someone spends abusing alcohol, the higher their risks are for developing dangerous chronic health conditions. On the contrary, early intervention of excessive drinking can prevent the development of certain hazardous and distressing physical and mental health conditions brought about by excess drinking.

Some cases of alcohol dementia may be fully or partially improved following sustained periods of sobriety. Although not guaranteed, full recovery from alcoholism and alcohol-related dementia is possible. In these cases, treatment may be best for someone suffering from a severe alcohol use disorder, or someone abusing alcohol that can’t stop.

A woman comforts her friend who has been drinking a lot, showing why early intervention matters

If you need assistance to stop drinking, or believe a family member may need help becoming abstinent from alcohol, reach out to our admission specialists today.

Get Inpatient Alcohol Addiction Treatment Now

If you or a loved one are exhibiting signs of heavy drinking or alcohol-related brain damage, seek help immediately.

Hotel California by the Sea offers withdrawal management in our Orange County, California detox facility. We also provide optional ongoing residential care to those suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD). We also provide outpatient services to clients that require more flexibility while recovering from their substance use disorder.

Call Hotel California by the Sea to learn more about how to stop drinking and how our programs can help you get (and stay) sober. We accept multiple insurance plans and offer payment plans to families and patients in need.