What Is Alcohol Dementia And How To Treat It
By Danni Peck
Updated February 27, 2020
Reviewer Prudence Hatchett, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
Most will agree there is nothing wrong with having an occasional drink, be it for social reasons or to help unwind after a hard week. However, we all know that excessive alcohol consumption is an addiction that must be treated. One of the long-term side effects of alcoholism is alcohol-related dementia (ARD,) and in this post, we'll dive into what it is, what the symptoms are, and how to treat it.
What Is ARD?
Alcohol-related dementia is a form of dementia that is caused by years of excessive drinking. Dementia is an umbrella term for conditions that deal with a loss of cognitive function. You may lose your memories, have difficulty keeping your balance, and more. Alzheimer's disease is the most infamous form of dementia.
How long it will take until ARD occurs will depend. Some people can drink all their life and not experience it. However, long-term consumption of alcohol may lead to ARD. If a man has more than six drinks daily, or a woman has more than four, it could increase the risk of ARD.
We know that the over-consumption of alcohol can be bad for you, but what exactly is going on that causes ARD? One reason is that of nutrition. Too much alcohol can lead to a nutritional loss. Thiamine, also known as B1, is a vitamin that suffers especially. Alcohol can prevent the absorption of B1, which can lead to dementia down the road. Thiamine is found in beans, nuts, meat, yeast and other foods. And, of course, you can get it in supplement form as well.
Also, alcohol is a neurotoxin, so too much can lead to damage to the brain, creating ARD.
The Symptoms of ARD
If you've been drinking excessively over the years, here are some symptoms you may experience if you're suffering from alcohol dementia.
- This is an early sign. If you've ever felt sudden confusion, it could be ARD.
- Short-term memory loss. You may not be able to remember what happened recently, but you may be able to remember events from years ago.
- This short-term memory loss can include repeating the same stories, questions, or words over and over. If someone keeps telling you, "You just told me that," and you don't remember saying it, it could be a sign of ARD.
- ARD can lead to impulsiveness. You may do something irrational without thinking of the possible consequences of the behavior.
- You may experience impairments in your speech. If you've been hard to understand lately, it could be a sign of ARD.
- You may have trouble keeping balance. This is because alcohol can affect your nerves.
- Psychiatric symptoms can develop as a result of ARD. You may experience depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or more.
- You may have a sudden change in personality.
- You may feel unmotivated and apathetic.
If you're experiencing these symptoms, and you are a heavy drinker, you should get yourself diagnosed as soon as possible. With that said, diagnosing ARD is difficult for many doctors. ARD has similar symptoms to other forms of dementia. Even if you drink a lot, your dementia may not be alcohol-related.
Your doctor will make you go through tests to screen for dementia. One such test is the Folstein Mini-Mental Status Examination. It's a short test, and most mental health centers should carry it. It can help determine whether or not you have dementia.
Even the diagnostic criteria in the DSM is not that perfect. Here are the criteria.
- The patient must have cognitive deficits caused by memory impairment. This involves not being able to learn or recall information. Also, the patient must have another cognitive disorder. These include language disturbances, motor functioning difficulties, having trouble recognizing or identifying certain objects, and an inability to plan or organize.
- The above criteria are causing significant trouble with the patient. The patient used to have normal levels of cognitive function, but they've been worsening ever since.
- These symptoms are not due to the effects of drinking alcohol itself. You may have cognitive impairments while drunk, but you shouldn't have them after the alcohol leaves your system. If you do, it's a sign of ARD.
- There must be evidence that the cognitive impairments are related to the patient's abuse of alcohol. The evidence usually comes in the form of personal history, lab work, and physical examination.
Once you are diagnosed with ARD, you may wonder what the treatment options are. Treating ARD is possible.
Treatment of ARD
Many forms of dementia do not have any cure. However, with ARD, there is hope. If caught early, you may be able to reverse the symptoms.
To treat it, the first obvious step is to stop drinking or cut back on your alcohol use. Afterward, you may be put on vitamins. A vitamin deficiency is one of the reasons you have ARD, and by replenishing vitamins such as thiamine, you may be able to recover from your ARD. Women have a higher chance of recovering than men do.
Even if you catch dementia too late, it is still recommended you quit alcohol before it gets worse. Recovery is still possible, so don't continue to drink because you feel like you've gone too far to go back.
Preventing ARD involves not drinking as much. Monitored alcohol usage means that you probably won't develop ARD. However, there is more to it than just that. ARD is also due to poor diet. Even if you're a heavy drinker, taking thiamine supplements may prevent you from developing ARD. With that said, it's still recommended that you only drink on occasion, as long-term alcohol use can lead to some health effects.
Getting Off Alcohol
If you're suffering from alcohol addiction, it's not easy to stop drinking. You've been consuming alcohol for a long time, and it's become a chemical dependency. If you stop drinking alcohol right away, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Fever, headaches, seizures, mood swings… these are just a few side effects. As soon as the side effects hit you, you may turn back to alcohol. Not only are these symptoms uncomfortable, but in some instances, they may be deadly. For many, it may not seem like it's worth the risk.
The first three days of alcohol withdrawal is hard, but it's a sign that your body is starting to heal. If you aren't able to handle the withdrawal, which can be dangerous, seeking medical help through a detox center may be your best option. Not everyone can do it on their own. However, by admitting you have a problem and by helping it, you can make the difference.
Another way is to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink. Look at how much alcohol you drink every day and try to cut back a little bit each week. If you have six drinks a day, try doing five for a week, then four, then reduce until you're clean.
Alcohol withdrawal is hard to deal with, so don't be afraid to ask for help. A medical professional may be able to help you relieve the symptoms of withdrawal by prescribing and administering safe medications to help treat some of the symptoms. They can help you with any other questions you have about quitting alcohol, including how the body will recover, how to resist the urge, and how to continue with your life. You'll be glad you recovered.
With that said, there are support groups you can consult when the temptation is too much. Besides Alcoholics Anonymous, there are other support groups you can contact. They are filled with recovering alcoholics who work together so that everyone resists the temptation to be back on the bottle.
Finally, when you've recovered, try resisting all forms of temptation. Some friends may be great drinking buddies, but once you're off alcohol, they should respect the fact that you don't want to drink. If they keep persisting you drink, then you may want to cut off all communication until they learn better.
Alcohol recovery is difficult, but by cleaning your body and clearing your head, you'll get a second chance at life.
If you have an addiction or need help trying to live life as a recovering alcoholic, one way to do so is to seek counseling. If you are stubborn and cannot admit you have a problem, a counselor can break through your mental barriers, and you'll soon admit that yes, you do have a drinking problem. If you're a person who doesn't think they can live without a drink, a counselor will be able to tell you that life is possible while sober. They can help you form a plan to break away from alcohol addiction and receive the healing that you need.
ARD can be a frightening experience, but by treating it properly and seeking help, you can be able to make a full recovery and move on to a happier tomorrow.