Alcohol and Dementia

Contributor: Article Contributed by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC for Addiction Hope

alcohol and dementiaDementia is a debilitating set of symptoms in which mental function is gradually lost and diminished, such as the ability to recall information, reason, memory, and cognition. There are a number of conditions and disorders that can result in dementia, including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, and Alzhiemer’s, which accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases.

Dementia can also result from vitamin deficiencies, stroke, or thyroid conditions. Symptoms associated with dementia typically begin slowly and progressively worsen over time. Common symptoms of dementia may include the following:

  • Impaired or worsened judgment
  • Memory loss
  • Disorientation to surroundings, places, and time
  • Difficulty with motor, gait, and balance
  • Trouble with abstract thinking
  • Loss of communication skills
  • Inappropriate behaviors
  • Listlessness of apathy
  • Changes in mood, personality shifts
  • Depression
  • Difficulty adapting to change
  • Repetitive behaviors

Alcohol-Related Dementia

A specific type of dementia includes Alcohol Related Dementia, or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This type of dementia can occur with other forms of dementia but is specifically influenced by long term alcohol use. Repetitive and constant alcohol intoxication can damage the brain both directly and indirectly.

Brain damage can occur directly as alcohol acts as a neurotoxin on the brain, typically altering functions of the frontal lobes of the brain. This type of damage can cause loss of inhibition and planning and a decrease in executive functions [2].

Indirect alcohol-related dementia can result from malnutrition associated with long-term alcohol use. Individuals who chronically abuse alcohol often exhibit a thiamine deficiency, which is a B vitamin crucial for many functions in the body and brain. This often results in short-term memory loss, lack of apathy, and an inability to plan.

Korsakoff’s Psychosis

Closeup on medical doctor woman writing in clipboardA more severe form of Alcohol related Dementia includes Korsakoff’s Psychosis, which is a neurological disorder caused by a lack of thiamine in the brain resulting from chronic alcohol abuse. Individuals suffering from this disorder struggle with severe forms of amnesia, including severe loss of memories as well as an inability to form new memories.

In some cases, the brain damage that has been caused by alcohol abuse or chronic alcohol use can be reversible. This varies on the person, any other co-occurring conditions, the degree of damage that has been done to the brain, and forms of rehabilitation used.

In some cases of alcohol-related dementia, the brain damage caused will not necessarily respond to treatment, which is more commonly seen in Korsakoff’s Psychosis. However, a prognosis can be greatly improved with abstinence of alcohol, adequate nourishment and vitamin supplementation when necessary.

A New Diagnosis

While widely known and understood, Alcohol-Related Dementia is not commonly used due to a lack of diagnostic criteria. If you suspect that someone you care for may be suffering with dementia due to chronic alcohol use or alcoholism, it is important that adequate care and treatment is sought.

With early intervention and treatment, the effects of Alcohol-related Dementia can be minimized or even reversed. Find a medical professional that specializes in substance abuse or addiction that can help with an adequate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Get the Support You Need

Smart agentLiving with a loved one that suffers with dementia can be frustrating and difficult. Be sure that you are getting the support you need to help care for your loved on during this time.

Many support groups exist for both loved one and careers, and you can find more information through the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Center, supported by the Alzheimer’s Association.

If the dementia is related to alcohol abuse, it is also critical to get professional support to treat the addiction. Many treatment centers specialize in treating medical conditions associated with alcoholism, and this can also be an effective way of managing both the addiction and symptoms of alcoholism.

Know that there is hope for healing and restoration as the root of the problem is addressed and treated.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you or a loved one experienced Alcohol related dementia? What has helped you effectively cope with and manage this condition? What hope could you share with others who may be struggling with dementia?


  1. “Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Forms of Dementia”,

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 12th, 2015
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