A recent study examines the relationship between alcohol and dementia. The researchers found that alcohol use disorders are a major risk factor for all types of dementia. Dementia arises as a result of brain cell death, which may lead to a decline in learning, memory, and other cognitive functions.
Heavy drinkers are at increased risk of developing dementia, a progressive brain disease that generally begins with mild memory loss suggests the largest study of its kind ever conducted. Alcohol use disorders are the most important preventable risk factors for the onset of all types of dementia, especially early-onset dementia. This according to a nationwide observational study, published in The Lancet Public Health journal, of over one million adults diagnosed with dementia in France.
This study looked specifically at the effect of alcohol use disorders and included people who had been diagnosed with mental and behavioral disorders or chronic diseases that were attributable to the chronic harmful use of alcohol.
Of the 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia (before the age of 65), the majority (57%) were related to chronic heavy drinking.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines chronic heavy drinking as consuming more than 60 grams pure alcohol on average per day for men (4-5 Canadian standard drinks) and 40 grams (about 3 standard drinks) per day for women.
As a result of the strong association found in this study, the authors suggest that screening, brief interventions for heavy drinking, and treatment for alcohol use disorders should be implemented to reduce the alcohol-attributable burden of dementia.
Even when looking at all types of dementia, alcohol appeared to play a larger part than previously thought. Overall, alcohol use disorders were associated with a threefold increase in the risk of all types of dementia. And importantly, they were found to be the most significant modifiable risk factor for dementia.
When alcohol-related brain damage was excluded, alcohol use disorders still doubled the risk of vascular and other dementias. Even when adjusting the data for confounding variables, the link remained significant.
As mentioned earlier, heavy drinking comes with a constellation of factors that increase dementia risks. In this study, that was confirmed: alcohol use disorders were associated with smoking, depression, lower education, diabetes, and hypertension.