Alcohol related dementia (brain damage or ARBD) is the term used to describe a decline in cognitive abilities caused by alcohol abuse. ARBD leads to slightly different symptoms in different people and causes a range of conditions.
The most common forms of ARBD are Alcohol-Related Dementia – which can include problems with memory, attention, learning new tasks and reasoning – and Korsakoff’s syndrome which is a chronic memory disorder, caused by a severe lack of vitamin B1 (Thiamine). The symptoms of these two forms of ARBD often overlap.
Does alcohol abuse cause dementia?
There is some debate as to whether alcohol abuse is a direct cause of ARBD or whether the alcoholic’s lifestyle is also a contributory factor.
Alcohol is a toxin, which can cause damage to nerve cells and blood vessels leading to brain shrinkage. However, people who are heavily dependent on alcohol also often suffer head injuries from falling over or fighting, which can contribute to alcohol related dementia. Likewise, heavy drinkers tend to replace food with drink and don’t look after themselves which means that their bodies do not absorb vitamins as efficiently as they might otherwise do.
What are the symptoms of alcohol related dementia?
Not all people will experience the same symptoms but typically the symptoms might include:
- A decline in the ability to process and learn
- Difficulty remembering
- Decreased ability to plan, organise and think logically
- Reduced attention span
- Changes in personality and mood
- Inhibited social skills
Who is affected by alcohol related dementia?
Not everyone who drinks to excess will necessarily get alcohol related dementia, but typically, people who drink heavily over a period of 10 years or longer are more likely to be affected. It is not known why some heavy drinkers do develop alcohol related dementia or Korsakoff’s syndrome, while others do not. Men and women over the age of 45 seem to be more susceptible, but possibly because they have a longer history of regular drinking.
Is there a cure to alcohol related dementia?
As long as the condition has not developed too far, the problems can sometimes be reversed or slowed if the person is able to stop drinking alcohol, improves their diet and lifestyle and ensures they have a good level of Vitamin B1 intake. Alcohol withdrawal therapies can help with this.
If left unchecked for a long time, the brain damage can be permanent and degenerative.