Alcoholic Dementia Symptoms

What is Alcohol Induced Dementia? Alcohol consumption in moderate amounts has not been found to cause dementia or any other cognitive impairments. However, excessive use and alcohol abuse in old age has been associated with changes in brain structure that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and variants of dementia. Alcoholic dementia symptoms require treatment and […]

What is Alcohol Induced Dementia?

Alcohol consumption in moderate amounts has not been found to cause dementia or any other cognitive impairments. However, excessive use and alcohol abuse in old age has been associated with changes in brain structure that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and variants of dementia. Alcoholic dementia symptoms require treatment and the very first step and the most effective prevention is to stop drinking alcohol.

Drinking too much can harm your health. Excessive alcohol use led to approximately 95,000 deaths and 2.8 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2011 to 2015, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 29 years. Further, excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years. [1]

Alcoholism may also cause a rare type of dementia called Korsakoff syndrome, according to The Alzheimer’s Association. This dementia appears when a person is deficient in thiamine/vitamin B1, a deficiency that is more prevalent among chronic alcoholics.

Early Stage Alcoholic Dementia

Some people experience what doctors call an alcohol blackout when they drink too much alcohol and don’t remember key details.

These situations can range from small, such as where a person put their keys, to large, such as forgetting what happened at night. According to Duke University, the inability to remember anything from a night out usually occurs after a person has had five or more drinks.

Alcoholic Dementia Symptoms
If caught early enough, patients with the more general alcoholic dementia symptoms can show much improvement by quitting alcohol.

1. Short-Term Memory Loss

Alcohol affects short-term memory by slowing down how nerves communicate with each other in a part of the brain called the hippocampus.

The hippocampus plays a significant role in helping people form and maintain memories. When normal nerve activity slows down, short-term memory loss can occur.

2. Long-Term Memory Loss

Heavy alcohol use doesn’t only slow down the hippocampus, it can damage it. Alcohol can destroy nerve cells. This affects a person’s memory in the short and long term.

In addition, people who drink too much alcohol are often deficient in vitamin B-1, or thiamine. This vitamin is vital to providing energy to the brain and nerve cells.

Alcohol use affects how well the body uses thiamine. [2] It can also affect thiamine in the following ways:

  • People who drink heavily may not eat a healthy diet and miss out on key nutrients.
  • Drinking too much alcohol can irritate the stomach lining, which affects how the stomach absorbs nutrients.
  • Heavy alcohol use can cause vomiting, which keeps the stomach and intestines from absorbing nutrients.
Alcoholic Dementia Symptoms
Quitting drinking will prevent additional loss of brain function, alcoholic dementia symptoms, and damage. 

Thiamine deficiency can cause dementia, which is progressive and permanent memory loss.

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is a type of dementia linked to heavy alcohol use. This condition creates gaps in a person’s memory. It’s possible that a person can prevent this syndrome from getting worse, but they usually must stop drinking and enhance their nutrient intake.

Usually, the effects of long-term memory loss are related to drinking 21 or more drinks a week for 4 years or more, according to Massachusetts General Hospital.

3. Older People

Older individuals are more vulnerable to the short- and long-term effects of alcohol use on their brains.

As a person ages, their brain becomes more sensitive to alcohol. Their metabolism also slows down, so the alcohol stays in their system for longer.

Additionally, many older people also experience a slow degeneration of the cells in the hippocampus. It’s not usually severe enough to cause symptoms of dementia. But when you add the effects of heavy alcohol use, memory loss can be very serious.

In addition to these considerations, older people also tend to take more medications than younger people. These medications can potentially interact with alcohol, which can worsen symptoms.

Older people are also more vulnerable to injuries from falls due to changes in eyesight, spatial recognition, and bone health. Alcohol use can increase their risks for falls, as it can affect judgment and perception. A fall can injure them and affect their memory.

Alcoholic Dementia Symptoms

The symptoms of alcohol-related dementia depend on the type of dementia a person has. Though most people are familiar with Alzheimer’s, there are dozens of types of dementia. Primary progressive aphasia, for example, attacks speech and language, slowly robbing a person of their ability to speak, while Korsakoff syndrome may cause a person to lie without realizing it.

Some warning signs [3] that a person may have dementia include:

  • Unexplained changes in personality
  • Trouble solving complex problems
  • Difficulty with navigation. You might get lost following a familiar path.
  • Short-term memory problems. It’s normal to occasionally forget a piece of information. It’s not normal to be unable to participate in a conversation because you can’t remember anything.
  • Cognitive problems that make daily life difficult. For example, a person might have trouble following a recipe.
  • Poor decision-making
  • Confusion with place or time. For example, a person might forget they’re in the 21st century.
  • Trouble with communicating, such as chronic word-finding difficulties or increased difficulty reading or understanding speech

Alcohol Dementia Life Expectancy

 With appropriate treatment, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that approximately 25% of people will recover completely, about half will improve but not regain full functioning, and about 25% will remain about the same.

Any improvement in functioning usually occurs within the first two years after the symptoms began.

Alcoholic Dementia Symptoms
Life expectancy may remain normal if the person does not drink alcohol.

According to the Merck Manuals, about 10%–20% of people with untreated Wernicke encephalopathy will not survive. However, with treatment, the prognosis of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is far superior when compared to that of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia whose declines are chronic and progressive, despite attempts of treatment. [4]

Long-Term Health Risks

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including:

  • High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.
  • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum.
  • Weakening of the immune system, increasing the chances of getting sick.
  • Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.
  • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
  • Social problems, including family problems, job-related problems, and unemployment.
  • Alcohol use disorders, or alcohol dependence.

By not drinking too much, you can reduce the risk of these short- and long-term health risks.

What is Excessive Drinking?

Excessive drinking includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than age 21.

  • Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive drinking, is defined as consuming:
    • For women, 4 or more drinks during a single occasion.
    • For men, 5 or more drinks during a single occasion.
  • Heavy drinking is defined as consuming:
    • For women, 8 or more drinks per week.
    • For men, 15 or more drinks per week.

Most people who drink excessively are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent. [5]

Examination of the nervous/muscular system may show damage to many nerve systems:

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

The person may appear poorly nourished. The following tests are used to check a person’s nutrition level:

  • Serum albumin (relates to person’s general nutrition)
  • Serum vitamin B1 levels
  • Transketolase activity in red blood cells (reduced in people with thiamine deficiency)

Liver enzymes may be high in people with a history of long-term alcohol abuse, alcohol-related liver diseases are the other worst consequences of drinking alcohol.

Other conditions that may cause vitamin B1 deficiency include:

  • Cancers that have spread throughout the body
  • Extreme nausea and vomiting during pregnancy (hyperemesis gravidarum)
  • Heart failure (when treated with long-term diuretic therapy)
  • Long periods of intravenous (IV) therapy without receiving thiamine supplements
  • Long-term dialysis
  • Very high thyroid hormone levels (thyrotoxicosis)

A brain MRI may show changes in the tissue of the brain. But if Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is suspected, treatment should start immediately. Usually, a brain MRI exam is not needed.

Alcohol Dementia Treatment

The goals of alcohol addiction treatment are to control symptoms and to prevent the disorder from getting worse. Some people may need to stay in the hospital early in the condition to help control symptoms. [6]

Monitoring and special care may be needed if the person is:

  • In a coma
  • Lethargic
  • Unconscious

Vitamin B1 is usually given by injection into a vein or a muscle as soon as possible. This may improve symptoms of:

  • Confusion or delirium
  • Difficulties with vision and eye movement
  • Lack of muscle coordination

Vitamin B1 often does not improve the loss of memory and intellect that occurs with Korsakoff syndrome.

Stopping alcohol use can prevent more loss of brain function and damage to nerves. A well-balanced, nourishing diet can help, but it is not a substitute for stopping alcohol use.

Not drinking alcohol or drinking in moderation and getting enough nutrition to reduce the risk of developing Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. If a heavy drinker will not quit, thiamine supplements and a good diet may reduce the chance of getting this condition, but the risk is not eliminated.

Alcoholic Dementia Symptoms
Improving the patient’s diet can help, but it does not substitute for alcohol abstinence in preventing further alcoholic dementia symptoms.

How We Can Help

Because many addictions coincide with another disorder, you must find a substance abuse treatment center specializing in treating co-occurring conditions.

This requires that the rehab understands the importance of taking the time to discover if there is another disorder at hand that may be playing into a substance use disorder before treating only the substance abuse.

For instance, a thorough investigation of an individual’s mental health condition before treatment will indeed receive the most effective and comprehensive treatment for their addiction and mental health disorder. This only strengthens their chances of maintaining their sobriety upon leaving the substance abuse treatment center.

Recovering from a substance use disorder does not need to be overwhelming or burdensome. With supervision from a substance abuse treatment center like We Level Up TX, you will be on the way to lifelong sobriety in no time.

As such, don’t hold advancing in your sobriety. Instead, reach out today, and a dedicated and compassionate admissions specialist will answer any questions and handle any concerns you may have about going to rehab centers.

Alcoholic Dementia Symptoms
Early treatment is the key to successfully treating alcoholic dementia symptoms.

At We Level Up TX Treatment Center, we provide world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. In addition, we work as an integrated team providing information about alcoholic dementia symptoms and other aspects of treatment. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our specialists know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.


[1,5] Alcohol Use and Your Health – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
[6] Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health
[7] We Level Up – Rehab Centers – Effective Drug & Alcohol Abuse Treatment