Medical professionals have long felt that heavy drinking and long-term alcohol abuse such as occurs with alcohol use disorder have an impact on the development of dementia. New research links alcohol use disorder and heavy drinking with an increased risk of early onset dementia, defined as dementia that begins before age 65.
Alcohol Abuse May Contribute to Early Dementia
In the study, which was published in February in The Lancet, more than 50 percent of early-onset dementia cases occurred in people with alcohol use disorders or alcohol-related brain damage. The study looked at more than a million people in France that had an alcohol use disorder diagnosis as a subset of a much larger number (about 31 million) that represented the general population.
These findings are not a surprise to medical professionals that have studied the effects of heavy drinking on the brain. When alcohol breaks down, it forms acetaldehyde, which is toxic to the brain’s cells. Thiamine deficiency is another way that heavy drinking affects the body and brain. Eventually, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome can result in reduced brain function.
Vascular dementia is another risk of heavy drinking because of the way alcohol use can raise blood pressure and affect the entire vascular system for some drinkers.
What You Can Do To Mitigate Early Dementia
Findings of such a strong association between early dementia and heavy drinking should be cause for concern for those with alcohol use disorder. While those who abuse alcohol may be able to explain away some of the negative effects of continual heavy drinking as temporary or minor, the greatly increased risk of developing dementia is a permanent and life-shortening event with an often devastating impact on the remainder of your life.
Getting help for your alcohol use disorder now instead of later can make a difference in your early dementia risk and is the best way to lower your risk of developing this brain disorder at some time in the future. The lead study author Dr. Michael Schwarzinger also recommended reducing the availability of alcohol by taxing it at higher levels and banning its advertising and marketing so that it does not seem as attractive to drink excessively.
Certainly, it is difficult to convince compulsive drinkers to think about the long-term ramifications of their behavior, but education and changes in the way alcohol is sold and consumed societally may be a way to achieve less alcohol consumption and lower the risk of early dementia.
Recovery Village at Palmer Lake provides customized and effective treatment programs that help people break free from alcohol use disorder and its devastating effects. Contact us for information about our programs for alcohol use disorder.