Dementia: The risk of alcohol consumption increases so much

Drinking frequently affects the likelihood of dementia

In general, people should be careful with alcohol to avoid health problems. Researchers have now found that high alcohol consumption significantly increases the risk of developing dementia.

The scientists at the INSERM – Université Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité in France found in their investigation that heavy drinkers in middle age have an increased risk of developing dementia. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "The Lancet".

Most early dementias are alcohol-related

For the study, the experts analyzed the data from more than 31 million French hospital patients from 2008 to 2013. Among these subjects, there were more than one million participants diagnosed with dementia. About five percent of dementia patients had a so-called early onset dementia, which started before the age of 65. The doctors found that most of these diseases were alcohol-related.

Alcohol consumption is a modifiable risk factor

Chronic heavy alcohol consumption was the main modifiable risk factor for dementia in both sexes and remained so even after checking all known risk factors for the onset of dementia, explains study author Dr. Michael Schwarzinger from INSERM University Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cite. Surprisingly, formerly heavy drinkers who no longer drank alcohol had no lower risk of dementia than their peers, who continued to be problem drinkers, the expert adds.

Heavy drinking leads to irreversible brain damage

The result of the study supports that chronic heavy drinking leads to irreversible brain damage. While some previous research suggests that alcohol can lead to cognitive impairment, including a risk of dementia, other studies have linked light or moderate alcohol consumption to a healthier brain.

How is heavy drinking defined?

According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), 3.3 million people die every year from the consequences of alcohol abuse, which accounts for around six percent of all deaths. The WHO defines chronic heavy drinking as the consumption of more than 60 grams of pure alcohol or at least six drinks a day for men and more than 40 grams or at least four drinks a day for women.

Almost a million participants had alcohol problems

During the study, alcohol problems were diagnosed in 945,512 participants. Most of those affected had alcohol addiction. Overall, about three percent of dementia cases were due to alcohol-related brain damage, and almost five percent of other alcohol-related illnesses occurred.

Alcohol has a major impact on early onset dementia

In early onset cases of dementia, however, the association with alcohol appeared to be even stronger. About 39 percent of these cases were due to alcohol-related brain damage, and another 18 percent were due to other alcohol-related diseases, say the doctors. Alcohol use disorders were associated with triple risk of dementia and double risk of early onset of dementia. Aside from alcohol-related brain damage, alcohol use disorders were still at twice the risk of vascular and other dementias. Alcohol use disorders have also been associated with all other independent risk factors for dementia such as tobacco smoking, hypertension, diabetes, low education, depression and hearing loss.

Were there any restrictions in the study?

The study was not a controlled experiment to prove whether or how middle-aged alcohol consumption could lead to dementia or cognitive problems. Another limitation was that researchers used hospital administration records to identify cases of dementia. It is possible that the condition of the participants was recorded when the patients had several medical problems. Similarly, alcohol use disorders have been identified through recordings of rehabilitation programs that may not include all people with alcohol problems.

Drinking heavily leads to cognitive problems

Since the study focuses on heavy drinkers, it does not provide any information about how strongly one or two drinks a day are associated with an increased risk of dementia - if at all, the experts explain. However, the study results confirm that heavy drinking can lead to cognitive problems. (as)

Author and source information

Video: The absolute best way to quit drinking and beat alcoholism (December 2021).