What Is Alcohol Dementia? (+ Supportive Strategies That Can Help)

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated September 26, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Living With ARD Or Addiction Can Be Hard

Most might agree there is nothing wrong with having an occasional drink—be it for social reasons or to help unwind after a hard week. However, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to many consequences, including strained relationships, poor performance at work and addiction (among other things). The risk of developing long-term side effects, including alcohol-related dementia (ARD) can increase the longer an addiction continues. In this post, we'll dive into what it ARD is, what the symptoms are and supportive strategies that can help. 

What Is ARD?

Alcohol-related dementia (ARD) is generally defined as a condition that can be caused by alcohol-related brain damage. Regularly drinking too much alcohol over a long time can adversely impact one’s cognitive function, and can lead to symptoms that can closely mimic other types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

ARD can impact memory, coordination, learning and other mental functions. Some experts believe that ARD may be connected to a chronic memory disorder known as Korsakoff syndrome, which stems from a severe vitamin B-1 deficiency often caused by excessive alcohol use.

How long it will take until ARD can vary. Some people can drink all their life and not experience it. However, long-term consumption of alcohol is generally regarded as one of the biggest risk factors for ARD. Participating in excess drinking, which is typically defined as having more than four to five drinks a day, may also increase your chance of developing ARD.

What Causes ARD?

It’s currently not clear whether alcohol itself can cause ARD, or if the nutritional deficiencies that excess drinking might. It is true, though, that many people who drink in excess can lack thiamine (vitamin B-1). 

This is because alcohol can affect the way the body absorbs and uses thiamine, which may mean that too much of it can impact the body’s ability to function as needed—even when drinks are no longer in a person’s system. 

Exploring The Possible Symptoms of ARD

Specific symptoms can vary between different people, but generally speaking, symptoms of ARD can include:

  • Short-term memory loss

  • Impulsive or “risky” decision-making

  • Having a hard time speaking or communicating clearly

  • Difficulties with balance and coordination

  • Difficulty thinking, organizing, focusing and learning

  • Personality changes

Diagnosis Of ARD 

If you're experiencing symptoms of ARD, it can be helpful to seek professional support as soon as you can. With that said, diagnosing ARD can be a difficult process for many doctors. Even if you drink a lot, any diagnosis of dementia may not be alcohol-related—instead possibly indicating a physical concern or another health condition. 

This is why many find value in seeking the professional opinion of a medical practitioner, as they can work with you to discern the most accurate diagnosis that defines your current needs and symptoms.


To begin the diagnostic process, your doctor may conduct a series of evaluations to determine whether your symptoms may be related to ARD, another form of dementia or something else entirely. To do that, they may rely on official diagnostic criteria from resources like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5).

According to the DSM-5, the following criteria generally need to be met for a patient to receive a formal diagnosis of ARD:

  • The patient must have cognitive deficits caused by memory impairment. This can include the inability to learn or recall information, language disturbances, motor functioning difficulties, having trouble recognizing or identifying certain objects and the inability to plan or organize.

  • The patient must display a lower quality of life due to the symptoms above, possibly indicating a rapid or severe onset. For example, the patient might have used to have normal levels of cognitive function, but now don’t by their own standard—generally indicating rapid decline.

  • The patient’s symptoms generally shouldn’t be due to the effects of drinking alcohol itself. Cognitive deficits that linger even after alcohol has left a person’s system may indicate ARD.

  • There generally must be evidence that the cognitive impairments are related to the patient's alcohol use. The evidence can come in the form of personal history, lab work and physical examination.

Treatment of ARD

Many forms of dementia do not have any cure. However, for those living with ARD, there is generally a larger chance of improving symptoms—perhaps even to the point of reversal.

To treat ARD, the first, many might decide to stop drinking or to cut back on alcohol use. 

Vitamin-based therapies might also be considered. Because a vitamin deficiency can contribute to the formation of ARD, practitioners might attempt to replenish vitamins (such as thiamine) to encourage recovery and reversal.

Seeking Help

Whether you’re currently experiencing symptoms of ARD or simply hope to prevent them, it can be a good idea to speak with a mental health professional about your concerns. Alcohol addiction can be challenging to overcome on your own, especially if you’ve been living with one for a long time. In some cases, professional intervention may be necessary to help you safely and effectively change your drinking habits or manage ARD.

Living With ARD Or Addiction Can Be Hard

How Can Online Therapy Help Those With ARD? 

Throughout your journey to treat ARD, you may find that online therapy can be a great way to connect and keep up with a therapist who can support you. As you don’t need to leave your own home to join sessions, online therapy can help save you time and money—not to mention the unnecessary stress that can come with navigating to and from appointments in person.

Is Online Therapy Effective 

If you suspect you may have ARD, you may benefit from online therapy.

One review of several studies published in Frontiers of Psychology reviewed the efficacy of online therapy for alcohol, gambling and substance addiction. 

Reviewers found data that suggests that online therapy led to a noticeable decrease in substance use behaviors for many participants. They also found that patient-led approaches avoiding restrictive techniques can be a helpful way to reduce the effects and risk of ARD for many.  


Alcohol-related dementia can be the result of years or decades of excessive drinking, and can have significant impacts on a person’s cognitive functioning. However, ARD can responds well to treatment; you may even be able to reverse your symptoms entirely. Working with your doctor and a licensed therapist may help you get started on the path toward better mental and physical health. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.

Navigate the challenges of dementia

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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