Consuming too much alcohol increases your risk of developing alcoholic dementia. Also known as alcohol-related dementia, this debilitating cognitive impairment is a result of long-term and excessive alcohol intake. Fortunately, this condition can be treated when caught early.
Institutes like Transcend Recovery Community offer a safe place for people who want to recover from alcohol misuse and live a sober life. We continue to fight the good fight by educating as many individuals as possible about the risks of heavy drinking. Continue reading to find out more about alcohol-related dementia.
What is Alcoholic Dementia?
Dementia is a general term used for a medical condition affecting healthy brain function. Some of the more known forms of this condition are Alzheimer's Disease, Vascular Dementia, and Lewey Body Dementia.
But rarely do we talk about, or know about, the type directly caused by excessive alcohol use. It's a condition that mostly goes unnoticed until symptoms become more pronounced.
Alcoholic dementia is a form of dementia specifically caused by chronic alcohol misuse or dependency. The affected individual can develop memory problems and a host of other cognitive disorders.
This happens because alcohol is a neurotoxic substance that damages your brain cells. It slows down its function and primarily affects memory retention. It prevents your neurons from communicating effectively by depressing your central nervous system.
Long-term and excessive consumption can make the negative effects more severe and permanent. That is why early detection is essential when it comes to alcohol recovery.
But alcoholic dementia is not to be mistaken for Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), also known as wet brain. This condition is a subset of alcohol-related dementia and is more specific.
Alcoholic dementia is an umbrella term for cognitive dysfunction that comes with heavy alcohol consumption over an extended period of time. WKS, on the other hand, is a vitamin B1 or Thiamine deficiency associated with alcohol abuse.
The keyword here is vitamin deficiency. Many patients who develop alcoholic dementia do not develop WKS.
Alcoholic Dementia Symptoms
The symptoms of alcohol-related dementia can vary from individual to individual. The following characteristics may not all be present in a person with this type of dementia. The severity of your symptoms depends on your drinking habit. If you binge-drink every chance you get and for quite some time, your risk and severity of your symptoms become higher.
With that said, here are the common symptoms that come with this alcohol use disorder:
- Memory problems: Alcohol affects the brain's hippocampus. It's the part responsible for forming new memories and storing information. People with alcoholic dementia have trouble recalling recent events and storing new information.
- Cognitive decline: Excessive alcohol use affects healthy cognitive skills such as thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving. This is marked by difficulties in performing complex tasks requiring high cognitive abilities.
- Personality changes: People with this condition also exhibit irritability, mood swings, apathy, and emotional instability. This change in personality and behavior affects the mental health of the affected person and those around them.
- Speech difficulties: Another part of the brain that takes a heavy hit when drinking alcohol is the temporal lobe — the area responsible for language processing. Speech difficulties manifest as having trouble finding the right words. A person with alcohol-related dementia may also struggle to keep up with the conversation and form coherent sentences.
- Poor judgment: People with alcoholic dementia may make poor decisions, exhibit impaired judgment, and struggle to assess risks properly. This can lead to dangerous behaviors and an inability to handle daily responsibilities.
Diagnosing alcohol-related dementia is best left to healthcare professionals, like the staff at Transcend. Going cold turkey on alcohol is also discouraged if you have developed alcohol dependency.
Alcohol-Related Dementia Risks
There are several risk factors associated with alcoholic dementia. Prolonged and immoderate alcohol drinking ranks the highest. Its neurotoxic properties act like a poison and destroy your brain cells the more you drink alcohol over sustained periods of time.
Aside from a lack of discipline when it comes to drinking alcohol, the risk of alcohol-related dementia is also influenced by several other factors:
- Age: Older individuals with alcohol addiction have a higher likelihood of developing this debilitating condition. The body may become less resilient and more susceptible to the damaging effects of alcohol on the brain with age.
- Genetics: Some individuals may have genetic factors that make them more vulnerable to the negative impact of alcohol on cognitive function.
- Health and nutritional status: Liver disease or vitamin deficiencies caused by alcohol abuse can exacerbate the damage to the brain and accelerate the onset of alcohol-related dementia.
You can use these factors to assess your risk of developing this condition.
Refusal to quit drinking can further develop into more severe forms of alcohol-related dementia. Wernicke Encephalopathy, Korsakoff Syndrome, or a combination of both (WKS) can follow in severe cases.
Heavy drinking also increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease by 300% according to a recent study. Alcohol is found to be the largest non-alcoholic factor in developing Alzheimer's Disease.
Referred to in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), alcohol-related dementia can also lead to early death. This makes sense if you take into account the cumulative effects of excessive alcohol use on the body, a higher risk of accidents, and acquiring other alcohol-related diseases.
Alcoholic Dementia Prevention
Prevention is always the key to avoiding alcohol-related dementia. You either stop drinking alcohol or limit your consumption. Avoiding chronic heavy drinking can significantly lower your risk of getting this life-altering disability.
Consider following these steps to prevent the onset of some of the serious symptoms:
- Drink in moderation: If you don't want to stop consuming alcohol, do so in moderation. Understand the difference between casual drinking and alcoholism.
- Know your limits: Understand your tolerance and limits when it comes to alcohol. Avoid binge drinking or excessive consumption.
- Seek help: Reach out to medical professionals who can guide your actions if you have alcohol dependency or tend to abuse it. Alcoholism is a treatable condition.
- Follow a healthy lifestyle: Your state of health is one of the major risk factors in whether or not you develop alcohol-related dementia. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and engaging in physical activities help keep your brain healthy.
- Stay mentally active: Engage in activities that stimulate your mind. Spend time doing puzzles, reading, or learning new skills to keep your mind occupied. Mental stimulation can help preserve cognitive function.
Alcoholic Dementia Treatment
A long history of alcohol addiction or abuse can make coping with alcohol-related dementia a challenge and take a toll on your mental health. If you suspect the onset of the disease and are experiencing dementia-related symptoms, consider a more serious approach.
Seeking help from healthcare professionals specializing in alcohol dependency should be your first step. They can help you identify if the symptoms you present are actual alcohol-related dementia. It's because you could be suffering from Alzheimer's or another medical condition that has dementia-like symptoms.
Effective treatment and symptom management for alcohol-related dementia starts with proper diagnosis. Experienced professionals can assess the severity of your cognitive decline. They also help you understand your addiction or dependency better.
Talk to family members and establish a supportive home environment. Like any other form of substance dependency, recovering from alcoholism also requires a network of support. The people closest to you are your best source of emotional and psychological support.
Patients with worsening memory loss and impaired ability to deal with daily tasks may need physical support and close monitoring.
Don't go cold turkey and suddenly quit alcohol use, especially if you've developed a deep dependence on the substance. Doing so increases your risks of the following side effects:
- Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS). It's characterized by severe tremors, nausea, vomiting, and sweating.
- Potentially life-threatening seizures 3-5 days after suddenly quitting alcohol use.
- Cardiac arrest due to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
- Relapsing and developing an even stronger craving for alcoholic drinks.
Follow the treatment plan established by your healthcare professional. Slowly wean yourself, attend therapy sessions, eat a balanced diet, and follow a healthy routine.
Can Transcend Recovery Community Help with Alcoholism?
Transcend Recovery Community can absolutely help you recover from alcoholism and get you back on your feet! Our treatment programs are designed to help you succeed in your battle with chronic alcohol use and abuse and live a sober tomorrow. We want every single patient to have a lasting recovery and live a better life without the threat of relapsing.
Feel free to contact us to get connected to a recovery specialist and learn more about our rehab programs. We are here to guide you in finding the best-suited regimen to help you or your loved one.