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Alcohol-Induced Dementia, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

The effects of alcohol abuse are very wide, they can lead to Alcohol-Induced Dementia, but those that are more commonly known are frequently liver disease and kidney affections. However, drinking heavily can also cause severe brain damage and affects a big number of people worldwide. In the scientific piece ‘Contribution of alcohol use disorders to the burden of dementia in France 2008–13: a nationwide retrospective cohort study, published by The Lancet Public Health, researchers analyzed a nationwide retrospective cohort of all adult patients, older than 20 years old, admitted to hospital in metropolitan France between 2008 and 2013.

Of 31.624.156 adults discharged from French hospitals between 2008 and 2013, 1.109.343 were diagnosed with dementia and were included in the analyses. Of the 57.353 cases of early-onset dementia, most were either alcohol-related by definition or had an additional diagnosis of alcohol use disorders.  Alcohol use disorders were the strongest risk factor for dementia onset. [1] As stated by the scientific article ‘Alcohol-related dementia: an update of the evidence’, Epidemiological studies suggest that individuals with Alcohol-Induced Dementia typically have a younger age of onset than those with other forms of dementia, are more likely to be male, and often are socially isolated. [2]

What is Alcohol-Induced Dementia? 

Alcohol-Induced Dementia

Alcohol-Induced Dementia refers to an alcohol-induced major neurocognitive disorder. The most common form of alcohol dementia is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. This syndrome is actually a combination of two disorders that can occur independently or simultaneously – Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome. Alcohol dementia, in general, is characterized by problems with memory, learning, and overall cognitive function. A person with alcoholic dementia may often struggle with their memory to the point where they create fabricated, detailed stories to fill in the gaps. A person with a drinking problem who does not undergo an alcohol detox or treatment is at risk of developing this condition.

Causes of Alcohol-Induced Dementia

People with alcohol abuse disorders tend to have nutritional deficiencies, due to the alcohol consumption itself, and also because they tend to neglect their diet. This causes health problems, such as thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency which may lead to dementia. Thiamine, or vitamin B1, is a vitamin often found in food dietary supplements that help the body convert food into energy. Without enough thiamine, the body can’t work properly. Because chronic alcoholics often drink more than they eat, they’re usually low on this important vitamin. [3]

If a person with a drinking problem does not receive substance abuse treatment, they’re more likely to develop impairments of memory and other cognitive issues related to dementia. Avoiding drinking can be a challenge for a lot of people. At We Level Up Treatment Center we have qualified professionals that can offer support for you or someone you love. Rehabilitation treatment can reduce the risk of developing dementia.  

Alcohol and The Brain 

According to the piece ‘Drinking Too Much Alcohol May Increase Dementia Risk’, published by, Dr. Joseph Garbely, vice president of medical services and medical director at Caron Treatment Centers, believes that alcohol has serious damage effects on the brain, especially in older adults. 

“Alcohol consumption causes cognitive abnormalities because alcohol has amnesia-like effects,” Garbely told Healthline. “It impairs your ability to encode new memories, which is where the term ‘black out’ comes into play. Although the effects of alcohol use include reduced short-term memory, it can affect other areas of memory in the brain as well, mimicking the symptoms of dementia, and because it targets higher-executive functioning of the brain, the impairment to an older adult’s cognitive capability is much higher.”

As stated by Schwarzinger, while “the neurotoxic effects of heavy drinking have been known for decades, this study confirms both the major neurotoxic effect of heavy drinking on the brain as well as the strong associations of heavy drinking with all other independent risk factors for dementia onset.”

Alcohol-Induced Dementia
Alcohol consumption causes cognitive abnormalities because alcohol has amnesia-like effects

“A growing body of neuroimaging studies support that alcohol use is directly correlated with brain damage,” added Schwarzinger.

Dr. Ming Wang, a staff physician at Caron Treatment Centers, notes that “Alcohol’s effect on the prefrontal cortex leads to cravings and a preoccupation with drinking,” Wang told Healthline. “Alcohol-induced conditioning then causes increased alcohol use that further erodes a person’s decision-making abilities. Alcohol also reduces serotonin levels in the cerebral spinal fluid. This has been linked to a loss of behavioral control that can lead to uncontrolled drinking.” [4]

If Wernicke’s is not adequately treated, it may result in Korsakoff syndrome, or Korsakoff psychosis, which involves significant impairments of memory and other cognitive functions. The most distinguishing symptom is confabulation (fabrication) where the person makes up detailed, believable stories about experiences or situations to cover gaps in memory. 

Those suffering from this type of dementia may have very little ability to learn new things, while many of their other mental abilities are still highly functioning. Sometimes, noticeable personality changes take place. [5]

Symptoms of Alcohol-Induced Dementia

The symptoms or signs of Alcohol-Induced Dementia depend on the type of alcohol dementia the person may have (Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, Wernicke’s encephalopathy, and/or Korsakoff syndrome). 

Some of the most common signs of Alcohol-Induced Dementia are:

  • Unexplained changes in personality or character
  • Lying without realizing it
  • Abnormal eye movement
  • Decreased or abnormal reflexes
  • Fabricating stories
  • Memory loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Problems with motor movement and coordination
  • Loss of speech
  • Difficulties learning
  • Trouble with complex problem-solving
  • Getting lost on familiar paths
  • Difficulties completing simple tasks, like following a cooking recipe
  • Confusion regarding the place or time the person is in
  • Difficulties appropriately stringing sentences or words together

Testing Alcohol-Induced Dementia

On the matter of testing Alcohol-Induced Dementia, examination of the nervous system is the key. This can reveal various types of damage, including:

  • Abnormal eye movement
  • Decreased or abnormal reflexes
  • Fast pulse (heart rate)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low body temperature
  • Muscle weakness and atrophy
  • Problems with walk (gait) and coordination

Treatment for Alcohol-Induced Dementia

If someone is suffering from Alcohol-Induced Dementia, the key is to start the treatment at an early stage. If caught early enough, patients with the more general type of alcohol-related dementia can show much improvement by quitting alcohol and improving their diet. Prompt treatment with thiamine (vitamin B1) for people with Wernicke encephalopathy can potentially prevent or lessen the development of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. However, vitamin B1 treatment rarely improves the loss of memory that takes place once Korsakoff psychosis has developed. [5] Quitting drinking will prevent additional loss of brain function and damage. Also, improving the patient’s diet can help, but it does not substitute for alcohol abstinence in preventing further alcoholic dementia.

Reclaiming your life from Alcohol-Induced Dementia, Alcohol Treatment Center in California

Alcohol-Induced Dementia is a serious condition that should not be taken lightly and can be prevented by an alcohol rehabilitation program for people with alcohol abuse disorders.  We Level Up Treatment Center can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from Alcoholism with professional and safe treatment.  Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors.  We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information.  Our specialists know what you are going through.  Please know that each call is private and confidential.


[1] ‘Contribution of alcohol use disorders to the burden of dementia in France 2008–13: a nationwide retrospective cohort study – The Lancet Public Health

[2] ‘Alcohol-related dementia: an update of the evidence’, N. Ridley, B. Draper, A. Withall – Springer Link

[3] ‘Signs of Alcohol Dementia’ –

[4] Alcoholism Treatment We Level Up