Having a loved one as an alcoholic is nothing short of a nightmare. Alcoholism affects everything about the person who is involved in it, from their mood all the way to their ability to function as a human being in day-to-day life. And it goes without saying that it has horrible second-hand effects on family friends who need to deal with someone struggling with alcoholism. The emotional stress involved in constantly being around someone like this cannot adequately be put into words.
Then there is dementia, which usually comes along with old age and other conditions related to the deterioration of the brain and its functions. There is no question that this too is hard to bear on the friends and family of someone who suffers from this condition.
Before we continue, let’s ask ourselves the following question: Could there possibly be a connection between alcoholism and dementia? We all know the effects that alcohol has on the brain. Is it possible that continued use of alcohol can be a major contributor to dementia of any level? Let’s discuss this further, and see if alcohol can really cause dementia. But, before we link the two together, let’s briefly get to know what they are first.
What is Alcoholism?
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Simply put, alcoholism is the drinking of alcoholic beverages and the like that results in significant mental or physical health problems. Excessive alcohol use can have severe effects on the body, mainly on the brain, heart, liver, and pancreas.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?
Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can affect the way the brain looks and works. It blocks chemical signals between brain cells (called neurons), leading to the common immediate symptoms of intoxication, including impulsive behavior, slurred speech, poor memory, and slowed reflexes. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Heart?
The cardiovascular system is affected by alcohol. Alcohol can cause a temporary increase in heart rate and blood pressure. In the long-term, drinking above the guidelines can lead to ongoing increased heart rate, high blood pressure, weakened heart muscle, and irregular heartbeat.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Liver?
Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including the following: steatosis (or fatty liver), alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. It takes the body approximately an hour to process one alcoholic beverage. This time frame increases with each drink. The liver can only process a certain amount of alcohol at a time. When someone has too much to drink, the alcohol left unprocessed by the liver circulates through the bloodstream, affecting the brain and heart as mentioned before.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Pancreas?
Heavy alcohol consumption can cause pancreatitis, a very painful and potentially fatal inflammation of the pancreas. In short, alcoholism affects quite a lot. Let’s talk now briefly about dementia, and we will see if alcohol abuse really does cause dementia.
What is Dementia?
Dementia manifests as a set of related symptoms, which usually surface when the brain is damaged by injury or disease. That being said, there are a lot of components that can contribute to dementia, both internally and externally. Aside from memory impairment and disruption in thought patterns, the most common symptoms include emotional problems, difficulties with language, and decreased motivation.
Can Alcohol Abuse Cause Dementia?
If dementia and alcohol use share so much in common, then there is no question that the overuse of alcohol can exacerbate one’s pre-existing dementia, if not cause it altogether. As we mentioned earlier, the symptoms of alcoholism include changes in mood and behavior, poor memory, and slow reflexes. Symptoms of dementia include emotional problems, difficulty with language, and decreased motivation. If that’s the case, let’s talk about how dementia comes from alcohol abuse.
Are There Studies Proving that Alcohol Causes Dementia?
Studies suggest that people who engage in the abuse of alcoholic beverages are more likely to develop different types of dementia, mainly Alzheimer’s disease more than any other type. Alcohol abuse and binge drinking are linked to negatively affecting the regeneration of brain cells. Multiple researchers in the field of Alzheimer’s diseases and alcoholism are now exploring the possibility that excessive and long-term alcohol use could be a catalyst for early-onset dementia.
While dementia can be idiopathic (from no specific source), there are several subtypes that can be linked directly to alcohol use disorder. This is because alcohol kills brain cells at a faster rate than age alone. Another study found that people who consumed at least five or more bottles of beer in one sitting, or one bottle of wine, in midlife were three times more likely than people who did not drink excessively to have dementia by the time they turned 65.
In short, if you or your loved one is heavily involved in the over abuse of alcohol, they are very likely to develop dementia at an early age and stage. And the effects of alcohol on that dementia, both created and pre-existing, can be devastating.
What Are the Effects of Alcohol on Dementia?
Some of the symptoms of alcohol-related dementia include difficulty with:
- Staying focused on a task without becoming distracted
- Solving problems, planning, and organizing
- Setting goals, making judgments, and making decisions
- Being motivated to do tasks or activities (even essential ones like eating or drinking)
- Controlling their emotions – they may become irritable or have outbursts
- Understanding how other people are thinking or feeling (their behavior comes across as insensitive or uncaring).
The symptoms of alcohol-related dementia can change a lot from person to person. If a person who is consuming alcohol with dementia has an MRI, it will often show that some areas of the brain have shrunk much more than others. Excessive alcohol consumption mainly affects the frontal lobes of the brain.
The effects of alcohol on dementia are obviously of a nature that can only make it worse. And, with the added element of dementia, they are retreating so far to the extent that they will ultimately forget who they are. They will forget who they were retreating into in the first place. A steep descent into the abyss is the only way to describe it.
Can Anything Be Done Before It’s Too Late?
Absolutely. And you must do something before it’s too late. You will only have what to gain. The longer someone spends abusing alcohol, the higher their risks are for developing dangerous chronic health conditions. Early intervention of excessive drinking can prevent the development of certain hazardous and distressing physical and mental health conditions brought about by excess drinking, dementia included. Free by the Sea can help you find a detox program to help you or your loved one who is struggling and suffering from alcoholism and the effects of alcohol on dementia. But, before you dive into one, it’s important to know a few things prior to getting started.
Alcohol Withdrawal is Real Thing
Stopping the use of alcohol is no small thing. When we talk about people having withdrawal symptoms after any addiction, it’s real and they feel it. And it’s something to bear in mind when trying to get someone off of alcohol. Don’t force it. Get them to a detox program first.
If you take them off too fast, one struggling with alcohol can experience the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Mild fever
- Excessive sweating
More severe symptoms include:
- Mild seizures
- Severe anxiety
- High blood pressure
- Irregular or racing heartbeat
The worst symptoms that can occur within only 12 to 24 hours after the first drink can get as bad as:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Visual, tactile, or auditory hallucinations
- Delirium tremens (DTs) — a combination of hallucinations, disorientation, and high fever
In short, take it slow. Get them to a detox program first. And, especially if they have dementia that is compounded by alcohol, be extra careful to find them a good program before they start getting off their addiction.
How Detox Works
Getting someone off of alcohol requires them to go through a process known as detoxification, or simply detox.
Detox is a process that rids the body of a certain substance, in this case, alcohol. It is one of the most commonly utilized treatment options for every case of drug addiction. It helps prepare the person for the other more specific treatment methods (therapy) and helps handle some of the withdrawal symptoms. Certain steps must be followed beforehand to ensure a safe and reliable detox process.
Consultation with a doctor is necessary to know how to go about the process. In order to be implemented properly, the doctor will take stock of the following:
- A review of the patient’s complete medical history
- Any past attempts by the patient to enroll in an alcohol recovery program
- Running several checks to identify any health conditions that may complicate the detoxification process
The Goal of Alcohol Detox
The purpose of alcohol detox is obvious: to yield positive results in withdrawing from alcohol.
The patient looks to achieve the following:
- The prevention and monitoring of any complications
- The treatment of acute symptoms associated with withdrawal
- Commencement of therapy to prevent potential future relapses
Detox is only the beginning. It opens the doors of other opportunities for further more specific therapies to further help the patient and should be taken very seriously if they want to reach such a place.
What Can Free by the Sea Do for Me?
If you or your loved one is struggling with alcoholism, and more specifically dementia affected by alcohol, Free by the Sea will go the extra mile to ensure that you are on your way to a brighter future. Our staff is standing by to monitor your situation, prevent any problems that can arise with withdrawal, and prevent any possibility of any relapse.
Free by the Sea is ready to help you towards a brighter future. We will set you up with a trusted alcohol addiction treatment program personalized just for you. If you suspect signs of alcoholism in a loved one, now is the time to get help. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment options and other addiction resources.
Dr. Richard Crabbe joined our team in 2019 as our psychiatrist and medical director. He attended the University of Ghana Medical School where he became a Medical Doctor in 1977. From 1978 through 1984, he was a medical officer in the Ghana Navy and provided a variety of services from general medicine to surgeries. He received his Certificate in General Psychology from the American Board of Psychology and Neurology in 2002.