Can Alcoholism Cause Dementia?

Alcohol abuse is nothing to shake a finger at. In fact, it is one of the most abused substances in the United States. Not only do many people binge drink and abuse alcohol, but alcohol abuse is also responsible for 88,000 deaths per year. In addition to this already hard pill to swallow, alcohol can also increase the risk of dementia (it is important to note that dementia is not the same as Alzheimer’s). This is extremely dangerous because dementia, as opposed to Alzheimer’s, encompasses several conditions that influence a loss of memory. Not only that, but it also has an impact on cognitive and social function. Thus, alcoholism and dementia often go together.



What is Dementia?

Dementia refers to a group of conditions characterized by the impairment of memory, decision-making, language skills, problem-solving skills, and others. Some individuals may succumb to the popular belief that dementia is just a part of aging. This is not the case, although dementia is common in those who are aging. 

Although Alzheimer’s is not dementia, it is the most common form of dementia. There are many forms of dementia, including the following:

  • Alzheimer’s
  • Lewy Body Dementia
  • Vascular Dementia
  • Frontotemporal Dementia

How Do I Know If Someone Has Dementia?

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if someone is suffering from dementia. This is because dementia varies from person to person. In a general sense, however, some recognizable symptoms of dementia include the following:

  • Issues with memory
  • Attention-deficit 
  •  Communication problems
  • Poor judgment
  • Poort problem-solving skills
  • Poor reasoning skills
  • Poor vision

Some other, more specific symptoms of dementia in a loved one may include the following:

  • Getting lost in familiar territory
  • Forgetting names of loved ones
  • Not knowing names of family members
  • Forgetting old memories
  • Inability to complete simple daily tasks

Alcoholism and Dementia

Abusing alcohol for a long period can lead to permanent damage to the brain. There are terms associated with those who suffer impairment in learning, memory, and overall cognitive function as a result of alcoholism. These terms are Alcohol-Related Dementia (ARD) and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS). WKS is associated with low levels of thiamine, a B vitamin that helps convert food to fuel.

In some cases, it’s difficult to say whether or not a person’s alcoholism and dementia are correlated. It is worth noting, however, that excessive drinking is dangerous. 

What is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

Alcohol-related dementia (ARD) is a form of dementia related to drinking alcohol excessively. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) is a particular form of ARD. In fact, the combination of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s Dementia is the most prevalent form of ARD. 

These conditions oftentimes form together, but in some cases, individuals just develop one of these cases. Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s Dementia form together because of the same root cause: a thiamine deficiency. This relates to alcoholism because alcohol abuse prevents a person from getting a proper dose of this vitamin.

Karsakoff’s Dementia has a detrimental impact on cognitive function in the brain and characterizes itself with a plethora of symptoms. It is worth mentioning that these symptoms last longer than Wernicke’s Encephalopathy. Wernicke’s Encephalopathy usually causes stumbling, loss of motor skills, abnormal eye movements, and confusion. In contrast, Karsakoff’s Dementia is longer lasting due to the severe lack of thiamine.

Symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Some symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome include the following:

  • Substantial gaps in long-term memory
  • Filling long-term memory gaps with imaginary details
  • Struggling to learn new information

It’s important to note that just because someone is suffering from Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome doesn’t mean that the condition will last forever. This form of dementia could resolve if a person were to cease his or her alcohol abuse. With some people, however, there does exist the possibility for this condition to become a more permanent struggle. Thus, it’s imperative to look out for symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoffe and contact a care facility if a loved one is experiencing them.

Alcoholism and Dementia By The Numbers

People that suffer from both alcoholism and dementia are at risk of significant memory loss. This has all to do with the medications someone could be taking for his or her dementia. It could also have to do with other medications a person could be taking. 

Usually, combining alcohol with medication is not a very good call. Mixing the two could prove to be very dangerous. Memory loss could also be influenced by drinking alcohol, period. This is especially true when someone is experiencing the later stages of dementia. It doesn’t even have to be that frequent. For example, senior citizens who binge drink twice a month are 147% more likely to decline cognitively than those who don’t. They’re also 146% more likely to have memory problems compared to those who don’t. 

In addition to all of this, 78% of individuals diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder have a variation of dementia or cognitive issues. Not only that, but those who drink alcohol excessively increase their likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s by 300%. This particular disease is responsible for anywhere between 60-80% of dementia cases.

Is There Treatment for Alcoholism and Dementia?

When it comes to treatment for ARD or WKS, there are many options to consider. Some treatments for these diseases include medically-assisted detox, traditional inpatient rehab, and more. 

WKS is a difficult disease to live with and overcome due to the severity of how it affects the brain. With the proper treatment, however, an individual with WKS could turn things around for him or herself.

Nearly a quarter of those who suffer from Korsakoff syndrome who seek treatment recover successfully. 50% of those who participate in treatment improve, but don’t recover completely. The remaining 25% continue to suffer from WKS. 

Although one never knows which statistic about his or her level of recovery from WKS, seeking out treatment for the illness is always worth a shot. After all, we are more than just statistics and numbers – we are human beings that deserve happiness. 

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Some other, more specific forms of treatment for alcohol use disorder treatment may include the following:

  • Inpatient Treatment
  • Outpatient Treatment
  • Medically Assisted Detox
  • Holistic Treatment

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient residential treatment is a method of care in which those participating suffer from more severe cases of alcohol use disorders. The inpatient residential treatment option typically lasts anywhere from 28 days to six months. 

Those who participate typically spend their days attending treatment (whatever that may look like for them), participating in some form of therapy (individual, group, family, etc.), and spending their free time utilizing a facility’s amenities. When an individual participates in an inpatient recovery program, it means that he or she stays overnight, 24/7 with the supervision of professional medical personnel. 

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment for alcohol use disorder is a direct contrast to inpatient treatment (as far as its foundational processes are concerned). Those who participate in an outpatient recovery program are typically suffering from milder forms of addiction. In some cases, outpatient treatment may allow an individual to bridge the gap between the walls of an inpatient facility and the world outside of rehab. 

People who participate in outpatient treatment programs will spend anywhere from 10-12 hours throughout the week in therapy. This therapy, however, is done in such people’s own time, apart from a treatment facility. Individuals that participate in outpatient programs can carry more of the responsibility that comes with day-to-day life.

Medically Assisted Detox

Medically assisted detox is a method of care that, in a nutshell, helps an individual curb his or her symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Some of these alcohol withdrawal symptoms include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches

The symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol are sometimes too much to bear for those suffering from substance use disorders. Oftentimes, individuals will return to alcohol abuse when they know it’s destructive just so that they can curb the symptoms of withdrawal.

 In cases like these, though, for those suffering from substance use disorders, it’s imperative to remember that alcohol withdrawal is not the end-all-be-all. Official addiction treatment is also necessary. Some facilities provide medication that will help relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal during detox and addiction treatment. 

Holistic Treatment for Addiction

Holistic treatment for alcohol addiction is when a facility provides methods of care that aim to mend the entirety of a person (mind, body, and soul). Some of these holistic practices include yoga, hiking, swimming, art, and other methods. The idea of holistic treatment is to treat the entirety of an individual to help him or her overcome a substance use disorder. 

Don’t Wait; Get Help Today

Alcohol abuse is not an easy road to walk down. Whether you’re a victim, or whether you’re suffering from alcohol abuse, there is help available. 

At Harmony Ridge, we desire that you find the care you’re looking for. It’s not easy to navigate the ins and outs of a substance use disorder. What’s even worse than this is suffering from alcoholism and dementia simultaneously. Regardless, we at Harmony Ridge are equipped to help you by whatever means necessary. 
If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism and dementia, you can contact us here.

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