Study reveals a significant link between heavy alcohol use and dementia

New research published in The Lancet Public Health journal found alcohol use disorders to be one of the most vital avoidable risk factors for the onset of all types of dementia, particularly early-onset dementia. The current research work was a nationwide observational study of over one million adults diagnosed with dementia in France.

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The nationwide observational study of over one million adults diagnosed with dementia in France, specifically assessed the impacts of alcohol use disorders, and included people who had been diagnosed with mental and behavioral disorders or chronic diseases caused by prolonged harmful use of alcohol.

Among 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia (before the age of 65), about 57% were attributed to chronic heavy drinking.

World Health Organization (WHO) has defined chronic heavy drinking as the consumption of more than 60 g of pure alcohol (i.e. 4–5 Canadian standard drinks) on average per day for men and 40 g ( i.e. about 3 standard drinks) per day for women.

As a result of the strong association found in this study, the authors recommended the implementation of screening, brief interventions for heavy drinking, and treatment for alcohol use disorders to lower the alcohol-attributable burden of dementia.

The findings indicate that heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are the most important risk factors for dementia, and especially important for those types of dementia which start before age 65, and which lead to premature deaths. Alcohol-induced brain damage and dementia are preventable, and known-effective preventive and policy measures can make a dent into premature dementia deaths."

Dr. Jürgen Rehm,the CAMH Institute for Mental Health Policy Research

The authors also mentioned that on average, alcohol use disorders could reduce life expectancy by about 20 years, and dementia among the prominent causes of death for these people.

There was a significant gender split for early-onset dementia. Though the overall majority of dementia patients were women, 64.9% (almost two-thirds) of all early-onset dementia patients were men.

Alcohol use disorders were also linked to other independent risk factors for dementia onset, like high blood pressure, tobacco smoking, depression, lower education, diabetes, and hearing loss, among modifiable risk factors. This indicated the numerous ways in which alcohol use disorders contribute to the risk of dementia.

Dr. Bruce Pollock, vice president of CAMH Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, said: "As a geriatric psychiatrist, I frequently see the effects of alcohol use disorder on dementia, when unfortunately alcohol treatment interventions may be too late to improve cognition. Screening for and reduction of problem drinking, and treatment for alcohol use disorders need to start much earlier in primary care."

The authors emphasized that the current study involved only the most severe cases of alcohol use disorder i.e. only those who were hospitalized. This may strengthen the association between chronic heavy drinking and dementia, due to the ongoing stigma regarding how alcohol-use disorders are reported.

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