Can Alcohol Cause Dementia?

eating disorders and substance abuse
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Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in the United States, largely due to how easy it is to access. Go to any grocery store, gas station, convenience store, or drug store and if you are of legal age you can pick up a variety of alcoholic drinks including beer, wine, seltzers, canned mixed drinks, and liquor. Even if you are not of legal age it is still pretty easy to get your hands on alcohol in some capacity. 

Heavy alcohol use over time can lead to significant health issues, including memory problems. Can alcoholism cause dementia though? In this blog, we will answer that question as well as take a look at other ways that alcohol can damage the brain and talk about treatment options as well.

What Is Alcohol-Related Dementia?

As the name suggests, alcohol-related dementia is a form of dementia that is largely brought on by the repeated and excessive consumption of alcohol over a long period. Alcohol-induced dementia can affect a person’s memory, ability to learn, as well as other mental functions. Korsakoff’s Syndrome and Wernicke-Korsakoff’s Syndrome are two well-known forms of alcohol-related dementia.

How Exactly Can Alcohol Lead To Dementia?

Any sort of brain damage or dementia that directly died to an alcohol-related condition is considered alcohol-related brain damage or ARBD. When a person consumes an excessive amount of alcohol they are actively preventing the neurons in the brain from regenerating, thus killing them off. Over time, killing off enough of those neurons can lead to brain damage, including memory loss and other symptoms associated with dementia. 

While many people associate dementia with those who are older, ARBD is becoming more and more common amongst those who are middle-aged with middle-aged women being the largest affected demographic. This is largely due to the differences in their body fat composition, height-to-weight ratio, and their hormones. 

Just like Alzheimer’s and other more “traditional” forms of dementia, alcohol-related brain damage produces similar symptoms due to how alcohol affects the cholinergic system which plays an important role in memory. 

What Are Some of the Symptoms As It Pertains To Dementia and Alcoholism?

The symptoms associated with alcohol-related dementia can differ from person to person based on how much damage has been done to the brain and any other ailments they also might be suffering from. That being said, some of the more common symptoms associated with dementia and alcoholism include:

  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Changes in personality
  • Changes in motor functions
  • Mixing up time and locations
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Long-term memory problems
  • Difficulty thinking clearly and logically
  • An impaired ability to learn new things
  • Having trouble communicating or coming up with the right words
  • Having problems with balance
  • Getting lost in familiar areas
  • A decrease in spontaneity
  • Poor decision-making
  • Cognitive problems

If you or someone you know has begun to display any of these symptoms you should reach out to your doctor immediately. It could be the signs of the development of alcohol-related brain damage. 

What Is The Connection Between Alcohol-Related Dementia and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

As we touched on above, both alcohol-related dementia and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome are two forms of alcohol-related brain damage. The biggest difference between the two is the speed at which the damage occurs and the cause. 

While alcohol-related dementia is a more long-term ailment with it setting in gradually over time as the brain becomes more and more damaged as a result of more and more of the neurons being killed off, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is much faster acting. 

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome tends to set in either during or right after detoxing occurs. However, the chances of the syndrome developing decreases greatly if detox is done under the care and supervision of a trained medical professional. 

Like alcohol-related dementia, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome produces many of the same symptoms including:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of balance

Additionally, people suffering from Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome might also experience things like extreme weight loss and eye muscle jerks or paralysis. When Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome sets in, it can lead to permanent brain damage that isn’t likely to reverse even if you stay sober for years.

Are There Ways To Test For Alcohol-Related Dementia?

The good news is, many different types of tests are available to help determine if alcohol-related dementia has begun to set in before it’s too late. The majority of these tests focus on examining a person’s nervous system in addition to their muscular system. Many of these tests incorporate the drawing of blood to test things like vitamin levels and nutrition as well as liver and enzyme testing. 

Is Alcohol-Related Dementia Permanent?

While more traditional forms of dementia that occur due to old age are permanent, there is the possibility that alcohol-related dementia can be reversed, at least partially. Seeking out addiction treatment early on can go a long way in helping reverse some of the effects of alcohol-related dementia. In addition, getting back on the right track from a health perspective can help as well. 

This includes things like eating a well-balanced diet as well as taking vitamins and other supplements. This is all done as a way to nourish your brain in an attempt to get it to begin to heal. While there is no guarantee that this will heal the brain and reverse all the damage it has been proven to be at least somewhat effective in reversing some of the damage. 

Are There Treatment Options for Alcohol-Related Dementia?

As we just mentioned above, the earlier you catch and begin to treat alcohol-related dementia, the better your chances are of reversing at least some of its effects. The best way to go about doing this is to enter into an alcohol-related treatment program. 

Before entering into a treatment program though, the first step in the overall recovery process is to detox the body and mind from any harmful substances that are in it. Due to the nature of detoxing and the side effects associated with it, detox should be done under the care and supervision of trained medical professionals.

This can be done at a local medical facility, a dedicated detox center, or a treatment facility that also provides detox services such as Harmony Place. Attempting to self-detox can be incredibly dangerous and even life-threatening. Additionally, it can increase the chances of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome developing. 

Once detox has been completed, the next step is to enter into a treatment program to address the alcohol-related issues. A treatment professional will create a treatment plan for you custom-made for you and your needs. As part of your alcohol-related treatment plan, you will increase your thiamine levels through supplements and vitamins such as B1 in addition to your therapies and meetings. Raising your B1 and thiamine levels will help reverse some of the alcohol-related dementia issues such as memory loss. 

It’s also important to remember that not all issues related to alcohol-related dementia can be reversed. Even if some of the ailments can’t be reversed, getting treatment can helo so they do not continue to get worse. Treatment will also help teach you how to live without the need for drugs and alcohol anymore. 

Can Alcoholism Cause Dementia?

Over time, and when left untreated, repeated excessive alcohol use can lead to permanent brain damage that can result in dementia and other issues. When treated early enough though, there is a chance that at least some of those symptoms can be reversed or at the very least slowed down. 

At Harmony Place, we understand the importance of getting treated for any alcohol-related issues as quickly as possible once they begin. That’s why we offer a variety of programs designed specifically for those suffering from things like alcoholism, alcohol abuse, and alcohol addiction. 

In addition to our many traditional treatment methods such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), eye movement desensitization, and reprocessing (EMDR) we also offer a variety of alternative and holistic therapies including:

  • Yoga
  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic Care
  • Massage Therapy
  • Mindfulness

Don’t allow alcohol to deter you from achieving your biggest goals in life. You can overcome your use of alcohol with the guidance of our well-trained, compassionate professionals.

Contact us today to learn more about our treatment options including treatment for alcohol-induced dementia. We want to give everyone that comes to us the tools to go on and live a happy, healthy, and sober life.