The Link Between Alcoholism and Dementia

Alzheimer's and Dementia Leave a comment , , , , , ,

Choice ConnectionsMany people equate long-term damage caused by alcoholism with liver failure and pancreatitis. Many are thus surprised to learn that alcoholism also causes a form of dementia known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is a type of brain disorder caused by a lack of vitamin B-1, or thiamine. The syndrome is actually two separate conditions that can occur at the same time, Wernicke’s disease (WD) and Korsakoff syndrome.  The no. 1 cause of WKS is alcoholism.

WKS is entirely preventable. It’s believed around 7% of people over the age of 60 exhibit signs of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome due to alcohol abuse. Many of these people may believe they are beginning to experience Alzheimer’s disease. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in that it is characterized by memory loss and other cognitive impairments.

Other symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome include:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Significant memory loss
  • Difficulties in forming new memories
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Communication difficulties
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Personality changes
  • Paranoia or agitation

Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome induced through alcohol abuse is much more likely to arise before you turn 65 years of age. Studies indicate that around 40% of cases involving early-onset dementia is caused by alcohol abuse.

Experts believe that alcohol kills neurons in the brain. Once these neurons are killed, the body struggles to replace them as sufferers grow older and older. This is a particular risk for people who are middle-aged and older.

How is WKS treated?

According to, WKS treatment should begin immediately. Prompt treatment may delay or stop disease progression. Treatments are also able to reverse nonpermanent brain abnormalities.

Treatment may first involve hospitalization. At the hospital, you’ll be monitored to ensure your digestive system is absorbing food properly.

The treatment for WKS may include:

  • Vitamin B-1 given through an intravenous line (IV) in the arm or hand
  • Vitamin B-1 given by mouth
  • A balanced diet to keep vitamin B-1 levels up
  • Treatment for alcoholism

After diagnosis, your doctor will most likely give you vitamin B-1 intravenously. Fast treatment may reverse many of the neurological symptoms of WKS

In a small number of cases, treatment of vitamin B-1 deficiency produces a negative reaction. This is more common in people with alcoholism.

Negative reactions to receiving vitamin B-1 may vary and can include alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as insomniasweating, or mood swings. You may also experience hallucinations, confusion, or agitation.

We hope the above discussion puts to rest the idea that alcohol is only capable of damaging the body and not the mind. Alcoholism is a disease that must be overcome using modern evidence-based treatments that are offered at an alcohol rehab clinic.

Sources: and

Image courtesy of Suriya Kankliang at

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