What is Alcohol Dementia? – There are many health effects related to alcohol use, both short- and long-term. Chronic, excessive alcohol consumption can result in an increased risk of developing many types of cancer, and can also result in a higher risk of liver-related disease.
However, it’s not only our physical health that we have to be concerned with regarding alcohol abuse – there are also a host of psychological effects that can develop due to, or be exacerbated by excessive drinking.
Alcohol dementia, also sometimes referred to as alcohol-induced dementia or alcohol-related dementia, is a term used to describe mental impairment caused by the overuse of alcohol. It is characterized by weakened cognitive and neurological functioning and is the result of massive alcohol intake over many years.
Of note, dementia from alcohol use can develop at any age and destroy the lives of its sufferers and those close to them.
Alcoholism is defined as the uncontrollable use of alcohol, despite adverse consequences that arise. Alcoholism can result in liver cirrhosis and a wide variety of other health conditions, but can also alter brain chemistry and damage/destroy brain cells.
Alcohol-related dementia (ARD) is a type of alcohol-induced dementia, in which patients who regularly abuse alcohol begin to experience symptoms related to damage to the front lobes of their brain. This can manifest as a loss of inhibition and consideration for the consequences that their behavior may incur.
But alcoholism can also contribute to brain dysfunction due to vitamin deficiencies that damage the brain and result in personality changes. Moreover, malnutrition can play a key role in the cognitive damage caused by alcoholism. The two main pathways to ARD are believed to consist of the following:
Wernicke’s encephalopathy (WE)
Also known as Wernicke’s disease, this condition is the result of thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency, which is most often caused by alcohol abuse and related vomiting and malnutrition. WE symptoms include mental malaise, confusion, erratic eye movement, impaired coordination, and amnesia.
Korsakoff’s Syndrome (KS)
KS, also caused by a lack of vitamin B1, is often a secondary consequence of alcohol abuse in many people and can result in vision changes and severe memory impairment.
The collective damage to the brain and body usually starts when sufferers first develop Wernicke’s encephalopathy. As the alcohol dementia stage progresses, WE can then cause Korsakoff’s syndrome. When both conditions are present at the same time, the resulting condition is referred to as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
People sometimes die from this condition because they do not receive appropriate treatment, or the people who suffer from it have irreversible brain damage.
In fact, around 25% of people with permanent brain damage from KS require long-term care in an institutional environment.
Other Effects of Alcohol Dementia
When a person develops dementia from excessive alcohol use, it can sometimes be challenging for this to communicate and perform complex motor tasks in addition to the memory problems. People who have abused alcohol may also suffer from nerve damage in the extremities, which can make some activities even harder.
Secondary symptoms and other conditions can also appear, including depression, anxiety, and psychosis. The damage done to the alcoholic’s brain in the frontal lobe can sometimes be confused with depression when in actuality, it is dementia.
How is Alcohol-Induced Dementia Diagnosed?
Of note, there are many similarities between alcohol-induced dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, although they are distinct from one another. Signs of alcohol dementia can include memory loss, problems performing tasks that should normally be familiar (e.g. dressing), judgment impairment and language problems. People close to the person suffering may also notice personality changes.
With KS, a condition which is characterized by the brain becoming atrophied, there can also be paranoia and agitation present. Sufferers may also experience a loss of muscle coordination and involuntary eye movements.
Alcohol-Induced Dementia Treatment
If a person is experiencing dementia due to alcoholism and nutritional deficiency, dietary changes and quitting drinking may help. However, in those who have progressed past this point, there may be little that will help.
In any case, the first step should be to engage the person in an alcohol treatment program. If the signs of alcohol dementia are caught early on, it is still entirely possible for the person to recover and lead a fulfilling life, despite some damage that has already been done.
Moreover, if you think that you are an alcoholic, you should seek treatment as soon as possible to avoid the progression of your disease and the resulting effects that can occur, including alcohol-induced dementia.
Our center offers medical and mental health treatment for persons suffering from alcoholism and its many complications, including behavioral therapy, counseling, group support, and access to medications that can ease cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Alcoholism recovery is a lifelong endeavor, but you don’t have to suffer for the rest of your life – and we can help.