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Can Alcohol Cause Dementia?

Dec 15, 2022

Excessive drinking poses many threats to daily functioning, but can alcohol cause dementia? Ahead of any specific diagnosis, it’s helpful to understand what kind of connection alcohol and dementia may have in people who regularly drink. Let’s look at what leads to alcohol-related brain damage and what makes beer, wine, or liquor a potential factor for developing one type of “dementia” as a result. 

Excessive drinking can lead to many forms of alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD), including alcohol-related “dementia.” ARBD connected to drinking includes both alcohol-related “dementia” and Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, sometimes called amnestic syndrome. These forms of dementia are different from the one connected to Alzheimer’s as there’s a chance for brain recovery if someone maintains sobriety, while traditional dementia cannot be cured. Executives and other high-earning professionals who are experiencing ARBD have the potential to slow or reverse the effects through confidential, personalized treatment at Headwaters. 

What Is Alcohol-Related Brain Damage (ARBD)?

Daily drinking and binge drinking can lead to multiple types of alcohol-related brain damage. The damage can occur in a variety of ways, too. Damage to nerve cells can happen when excessive drinking kills cells, brain tissue amounts shrink, and fewer cells are available to carry the brain’s messages to the body. Damage to blood vessels in the brain from too much alcohol can lead to high blood pressure and an increased threat of stroke. Drinking also interferes with the body’s ability to absorb Vitamin B1, which is needed for the brain to function properly, leading to malnutrition. 

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Someone who drinks regularly is at a higher risk for injuring the brain through falls, risky behaviors, getting hit in the head during acts of violence, or crashing a car if driving under the influence. These incidents, if severe enough, can permanently damage the brain.

Types Of ARBD

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): This can occur anytime someone suffers a blow to the head. Some symptoms will be immediate, and others may surface later. Some of the most common causes of TBI are injuries related to falls, firearm-related incidents, motor vehicle crashes, and assaults. 

Alcohol-Related Stroke: Excessive drinking can lead to a stroke in several short steps. The first is producing an irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation (AFib). AFib increases the risk of a stroke by up to five times as it causes blood clots to form in the heart. Clots that travel from the heart to the brain will lead to stroke.  

Alcohol-Related Dementia: Signs of ARBD can be seen in people who struggle to function with daily tasks. Their brain damage has affected their memory and ability to think and problem-solve. While the symptoms can vary from person to person, the level of difficulties can change within a person over time. Some symptoms of alcohol-related dementia include easily becoming distracted during tasks, facing issues with planning and organizing, and finding themselves unable to set goals and make decisions. People with alcohol-related dementia also may become irritable, lose motivation to do basic activities, and appear insensitive or uncaring to others. 

Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome: Unlike alcohol-related dementia, Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome is created by a specific set of circumstances. It stems from the disruption of vitamin B1’s in getting to brain cells by the excessive amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. The two names of this syndrome refer to its two separate stages. In the first, Wernicke’s encephalopathy develops with an intense inflammation of the brain. Symptoms of this stage include being disorientated, feeling confused, having some memory loss, experiencing difficulty controlling eye movements, struggling with balance, and becoming malnourished. 

If the swelling from this inflammation is left untreated and symptoms ignored, Korsakoff’s syndrome begins to develop. Confusion and memory loss become significant symptoms. A person in this stage may become unable to understand new information or learn new skills, their personality may change, and they may have serious gaps in memory without being aware of it. 

Reversing the effects of Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome relies on a person’s ability to get sober and remain in recovery long-term. Multiple high doses of vitamin B1 can also aid in reversing the effects of ARBD, and addressing nutrition needs is another essential element. Ongoing support will be critical to help them avoid relapse and begin to cope with any permanent memory loss. 

Help For Alcohol Use Disorders Is Available At Headwaters

Executives and other high-earning professionals can find help for alcohol use disorders at Headwaters. Following a medical detox to move safely through the withdrawal process, men and women of all ages can receive holistic, personalized treatment from the world-class team. Privacy and confidentiality are prioritized to ensure each client can fully focus on recovery without outside distractions. Comprehensive medical care is provided on-site as well to respond to a client’s conditions related to years of drinking, such as high blood pressure, heart issues, and malnutrition. Setting up an executive for future success in long-term sobriety comes from intensive family programming, continuing care planning, and other components of the highly specialized, integrated treatment model at Headwaters. 

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Bedroom at HeadwatersHanley Foundation’s Headwaters is a non-profit addiction treatment program for executives, public figures, other affluent individuals, and their loved ones. Headwaters offers leading-edge, personalized clinical care for mental health and substance use disorders, and our professional and compassionate staff can help you achieve holistic wellness. To start your healing journey, call 561-270-1753 today.

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