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Heavy Drinking Can Lead to Dementia

It’s common knowledge that alcohol kills brain cells, but a new study suggests that the effects may be worse than originally thought. Researchers in England suggest that heavy drinking may cause one in four cases of dementia, and that serious drinkers may begin having memory loss problems in their 40s, which will only increase with age. In addition, women are at an even greater risk, as they are “physiologically less able to cope with alcohol’s effects,” according to the report published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.

Researchers recruited 26 detoxified drinkers who were under treatment and 29 non-dependent drinkers to be involved in the study. The drinkers had abstained from alcohol for an average of 16 days, ranging from one to 365 days. Both groups were tested for memory function and depression, including a test for autobiographical memories. Each participant was questioned 18 times about their memories. The memory test presents a series of cues to which participants are asked to recall a personal memory that is specific to that cue, such as the first time they experienced a particular event.

The study found that dependent drinkers performed poorly on memory tests compared to non-dependent drinkers, with dependent drinkers recalling a specific memory for about 51% of the cues and non-dependent drinkers recalling 76% of the cues. Dependent drinkers also had fewer autobiographical memories, with an average of 9.15 compared with 13.72 for non-dependent drinkers. Dependent drinkers also took longer to recall specific memories and had higher depression scores.

“People think that dementia is something that happens to people over 65. But a lot of those under 65 have got cognitive problems and a large proportion of the problems in that group are related to alcohol, said Jane Marshall, co-author and consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in south London. “Alcohol-related brain damage may account for 10-24% of all cases of all forms of dementia. We know that alcohol is associated with serious cognitive impairment. It reduces memory and general cognition,” she added.

Doctors have warned that an “epidemic of brain damage” could result from Britain’s increased alcohol use, and they may give alcohol-related brain damage the same amount of attention as alcohol-related liver problems.

Posted on May 13th, 2009
Posted in Alcoholism

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