Alcohol and Dementia
What is alcohol related dementia?
Alcohol related dementia is, as the
name suggests, a form of dementia related to the excessive
drinking of alcohol. This affects memory, learning and other
mental functions. Korsakoff’s syndrome and Wenicke/Korsakoff
syndrome are particular forms of alcohol related brain
injury which may be related to alcohol related dementia.
What is the cause?
It is currently unclear as to whether
alcohol has a direct toxic effect on the brain cells, or
whether the damage is due to lack of thiamine, vitamin B1.
Nutritional problems, which often accompany consistent or
episodic heavy use of alcohol, are thought to be
contributing factors. Key parts of the brain may suffer
damage through vitamin deficiencies, particularly marked
thiamine deficiency and the direct effect that alcohol has
on the absorption and use of thiamine.
What are the symptoms?
This can vary from person to person,
but generally symptoms will include:
Impaired ability to learn things
Problems with memory
Difficulty with clear and logical thinking on tasks which
require planning, organising, common sense judgement and
Problems with balance
Decreased initiative and spontaneity
Generally skills learned earlier in life and old habits such
as language and gestures tend to be relatively unaffected.
Who gets alcohol related dementia?
Anyone who drinks excessive amounts
of alcohol over a period of years may get alcohol related
dementia. Males who drink more than six standard alcoholic
drinks a day, and women who drink more than four, seem to be
at increased risk of developing alcohol related dementia.
The risk clearly increases for people who drink high levels
of alcohol on a regular basis. The National Health & Medical
Research Council of Australia recommends that for health
reasons related to the prevention of brain and liver damage
adult males should drink no more than four standard drinks
per day and adult females should drink no more than two
standard drinks per day.
Some people who drink at high levels do not develop alcohol
related dementia, but it is not currently possible to
understand and predict who will and who won’t develop
alcohol related dementia. Some people who develop alcohol
related dementia might also show some degree of recovery
over time if they reduce alcohol intake to safe levels or
abstain from alcohol and maintain good health.
Alcohol related dementia can affect both men and women of
Further information - phone the
National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 (freecall) or