Chronic heavy drinking linked to increased risk of dementia

Ray Weaver
February 22, 2018

Prof Woodward says although the study shows a link between heavy drinking and dementia, it does not prove that alcoholism or long-term excessive consumption of alcohol causes dementia in every single patient.

A new and largest study of its kind has found that heavy alcohol use could increase one's risk for all types of dementia, and especially for the early-onset of dementia before 65 years of age.

Alcohol use disorders were also linked to other independent risk factors for dementia onset, like high blood pressure, tobacco smoking, depression, lower education, diabetes, and hearing loss, among modifiable risk factors.

The authors of the study suggest that screening, interventions for heavy drinking, and treatment for alcohol use disorders should be implemented to reduce the impact alcohol has on a person developing dementia.

To pinpoint the direct link between heavy alcohol drinking to dementia, the researchers excluded patients with other neurological disorders such as Parkinson's and Huntington's, which can both lead to dementia. "Therefore, it is somewhat unsurprising that early-onset dementia identifies a cluster of men with alcohol use disorders".

Heavy drinking may be a major risk factor for all types of dementia, especially early-onset dementia, retrospective research from France suggested.

Among the more than 57,000 studied cases of early-onset dementia (before the age of 65), the study discovered an even higher association.

Genetics remains the main cause of dementia in the overwhelming majority of cases but alcohol is the biggest lifestyle risk
Genetics remains the main cause of dementia in the overwhelming majority of cases but alcohol is the biggest lifestyle risk

"There is a strong effect of large alcohol consumption and brain damage".

More specifically, the study authors focused on patients who had been diagnosed with mental and behavioral disorders, or chronic diseases that were attributable to chronic harmful use of alcohol, according to a release on the findings from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Genetics remains the main cause of dementia in the overwhelming majority of cases, but experts are increasingly aware that lifestyle choices can raise the risk. "A variety of measures are needed, such as reducing availability, increasing taxation and banning advertising and marketing of alcohol, alongside early detection and treatment of alcohol use disorders".

What is alcohol use disorder?

Clive Ballard, professor at the University of Exeter Medical School in Britain, described the findings as "immensely important".

The latest analysis reinforces how simple lifestyle changes can help beat a condition that in 2016 killed nearly 63,000 people in England and Wales, 12 per cent of all deaths.

There are lots of reasons why drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis is not a good idea. Incidents of women with dementia are lower than males up to 80 years old. Over six per cent of men and 1.5 per cent of women discharged from hospital had alcohol use disorders, compared to 16.5 per cent of men and four per cent of women with dementia. "The more people you have, the less confidence you have in the elements that go into the diagnosis of dementia".

Disclosures: Schwarzinger is the founder and CEO of the Translational Health Economics Network in France, which receives grants from AbbVie, Gilead, Merck and Novartis.

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