Alcoholic Dementia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Alcoholic Dementia_ Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Alcohol abuse can eventually lead to symptoms similar to dementia. However, quitting drinking can occasionally reverse these consequences or at least slow them down.
Alcoholic dementia, often known as alcohol-related dementia, is a severe kind of brain damage induced by frequent drinking over many years. It may result in symptoms of dementia, such as forgetfulness, mood swings, and impaired judgment.

Years of heavy drinking can cause alcohol-related dementia (ARD), often known as alcoholic dementia. “Alcoholic dementia” is a former term for the health condition recognized as alcohol-related dementia or alcohol-induced major neurocognitive disorder. Both terms refer to a severe type of alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) and are interchangeable.

Alcohol directly affects brain cells, which leads to impaired judgment, trouble making decisions, and loss of insight. In summary, long-term alcohol abuse can occasionally lead to dementia. Nutritional issues, which frequently accompany long-term alcohol abuse, might also contribute to dementia-related symptoms since vitamin deficiencies may adversely affect some areas of the brain.

Alzheimer’s and alcohol-related dementia are comparable in that they both impair memory and cognitive function. Alcohol-related dementia can impair memory, learning, judgment, and other cognitive abilities [1].

The two primary kinds of ARBD that can induce dementia symptoms are alcohol-related ‘dementia’ and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. As there is some possibility of recovery in both of these disorders, they are not actual forms of dementia because dementia is an irreversible condition [2].

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is one of alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) syndromes. It consists of two conditions that can occur separately or together: Korsakoff syndrome (also known as Korsakoff psychosis) and Wernicke’s encephalopathy [3].

Three primary symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy are irregular eye movements (ophthalmoplegia), unsteady walking (ataxia), and confusion.

Sometimes, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is confused with alcohol-related dementia. Despite a few similarities, the two disorders have distinct causes. A deficiency of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is the primary cause of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome; however, excessive alcohol consumption may contribute to the deficiency.

What are the symptoms of alcohol-related dementia?

The signs and symptoms of age-related dementia and alcoholic dementia are very much alike.

Possible manifestations of alcohol-related dementia include problems with:

  • memory (particularly your capacity to create new, long-term memories)
  • focus and concentration
  • problem-solving and planning
  • decision-making & goal-setting
  • organization
  • motivation
  • emotional control
  • physical balance, even when not drinking

If you continue to drink, symptoms will progressively develop and worsen.

What leads to alcohol-related dementia?

According to research, excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption can cause structural and functional brain damage, which can interfere with your memory, spatial awareness, and executive functioning [4].

These changes can significantly impact your daily life, making routine tasks such as cooking or paying payments difficult. They may also eventually affect your personality, social skills, and mood.

A large study of 36,678 typically healthy middle-aged and older persons discovered similar associations between regular alcohol intake and brain alterations [5].

Those whose daily alcohol consumption was three units or more during the preceding month showed losses in both gray and white matter in their brains, making their brains appear three and a half years older. One unit is equivalent to a small glass of wine or a half pint of beer.

Diagnosing alcohol-related dementia

See a doctor if you think you might be experiencing alcohol-related dementia. They will probably begin by performing a physical examination and inquiring about your mental and physical health issues. Additionally, they might ask you to answer questions about symptoms about your memory and cognitive function.

You may also have a brain scan, depending on your symptoms, to rule out other possible causes of bleeding in the brain, such as a tumor, stroke, or physical damage. They will also be able to rule out other forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia, with the aid of all the data acquired throughout the diagnostic process.

Treatment of alcohol-related dementia

The goal of the initial phase of treatment for alcohol-related dementia is to assist you in quitting. Physician supervision could be necessary during this several-week process.

Long-term alcohol consumption may cause you to suffer the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which include agitation, mood swings, and confusion. However, your healthcare team may recommend medicine to treat the symptoms of withdrawal. Additionally, you may be given injections of salts, thiamine, and fluids.

Once the withdrawal process is complete, you will most likely be sent to a mental health specialist for additional assistance. Joining a support group during this phase of treatment might also be beneficial.
When you stop drinking, your symptoms often cease getting worse and often become better. However, occasionally, your care team may prescribe the medications memantine or rivastigmine, which are common drugs for treating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.


  1. Ridley, N.J., Draper, B. and Withall, A., 2013. Alcohol-related dementia: an update of the evidence. Alzheimer’s research & therapy, 5, pp.1-8.
  2. Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD): what is it and who gets it? Alzheimer’s Society. Accessed: 4th March, 2024.
  3. Korsakoff Syndrome. Alzheimer’s Association. Accessed: 4th March, 2024.
  4. Sachdeva, A., Chandra, M., Choudhary, M., Dayal, P. and Anand, K.S., 2016. Alcohol-related dementia and neurocognitive impairment: a review study. International journal of high risk behaviors & addiction, 5(3).
  5. Daviet, R., Aydogan, G., Jagannathan, K., Spilka, N., Koellinger, P.D., Kranzler, H.R., Nave, G. and Wetherill, R.R., 2022. Associations between alcohol consumption and gray and white matter volumes in the UK Biobank. Nature Communications, 13(1), p.1175.
  6. Recognizing and Treating Alcohol-Related Dementia. Healthline. Posted Online: 10th February, 2023. Accessed: 1st March, 2024.
  7. What Is Alcoholic Dementia? Very Well Mind. Updated Online: 6th January, 2024. Accessed: 1st March, 2024.
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