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What is Alcohol-Related Dementia?

Posted on November 6, 2023

What is Alcohol-Related Dementia?

Dementia is a well-known disease, though it does not have one specific definition. Dementia, in fact, covers a range of different conditions relating to the ability to think, speak, make decisions, and form and recall memories.

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common types of dementia and, although statistically found most commonly in elderly individuals, it is part of the process of ageing.

In general, all different types of dementia have the ability to affect everyday functioning significantly, often requiring additional support and assistance throughout everyday life.

Alcohol-related dementia, or alcoholic dementia, is when the onset of dementia is accelerated by excessive consumption of alcohol.

Not only does excessive alcohol consumption have its own risks relating to memory, learning, and other cognitive functioning, but this is often worsened by the onset of alcoholic dementia. 

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome refers to a specific form of brain injury that may lead to an be related to alcohol-related dementia.

Overview of Alcohol-Related Dementia


Alcohol-related dementia is similar to Alzheimer’s disease due to the comparison in memory loss and formation as well as everyday cognitive functioning (thinking etc.,).

In addition, with alcohol’s effect on the brain cells, areas of the brain that control these functions can be damaged, leading to lifelong issues and the need for support.

In combination with the consumption of large quantities of alcohol, a poor diet is often found. This can also lead to abnormalities and damage within the brain due to a lack of proper nutrition and deficiencies within these areas.

The following paragraphs outline in further detail the extent of the causes, effects, and specific examples of alcohol-related dementia.

If you recognise any of these factors within yourself or someone you know, get in contact with medical assistance immediately or call us today for further support and advice.

Causes of Alcohol-Related Dementia

The substance of alcohol itself does not, in fact, cause direct damage to the brain and associated functioning. Instead, it is the way that other factors around the consumption of alcohol and the effects of alcohol that can have the most impact.

Thiamine deficiency, for example, is one of the most common deficiencies found in individuals struggling with alcohol-related dementia, resulting from a poor diet – something that often comes hand in hand with alcohol abuse.

Thiamine deficiency stems from a lack of vitamin B1 and can cause issues when the body converts food to energy. This can take a toll on the cells of the brain, as well as nerve cells across the body.

Without these nerve cells, the body’s neural communication system may be disrupted, resulting in issues with memory, cognitive functioning, and decision-making. In the long-term, this can lead to the development of alcohol-related dementia. 

This is why it is always recommended to consume a full and balanced diet throughout everyday life as it supports normal functioning that individuals may not often consider.

Effects on the Brain

A brain

As imaginable, these deficiencies and other effects can have serious consequences on the brain. As a result of the neural disruptions and struggles in neuro communications, individuals will face more and more issues when it comes to the areas that have been mentioned previously mentioned that are affected.

Impairments to memory are the most common symptom of alcohol-related dementia, especially if the individual is known to have a history of alcohol addiction and/or abuse.

As with all effects of long-term and regular alcohol consumption, if the effects are not treated as soon as possible, then they will quickly become worse, often resulting in further medical issues – some of which are not treatable.

Picking up on the signs early is a great way to prevent any further damage from being caused, as well as protecting the individual (either yourself or someone you know) from further damage.

Some of these changes may not be noticeable, and others may be very clear. To approach someone if you think they may be struggling, always make sure to be respectful and open-minded to their experiences, as well as withholding from judging or blaming them for their behaviour and/or situation.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is a memory-related form of alcohol-related dementia (1). It results from the B1 deficiencies (and other nutritional deficiencies) as mentioned above but is also strongly linked to alcohol specifically, even with a B1-supplemented diet and/or doses of thiamine.

It can be further broken down into two further disorders:

  • Wernicke’s encephalopathy – generally categorised by the presence of abnormal eye movements and patterns (ophthalmoplegia), difficulty/unsteadiness in walking (ataxia), and general confusion
  • Korsakoff syndrome/psychosis – often includes the individual’s presentation of tremors, disorientation, amnesia, vision problems, and the risk of comas

Treatment of these syndromes begins with the supplement of vitamin B1. Over time, this will restore the functioning of the individual’s everyday wellbeing.

This also includes a full and balanced diet, as well as enough fluids to keep the individual hydrated throughout their treatment.

It is also recommended that individuals struggling with WKS should stop the consumption of alcohol. This can be done through numerous methods, depending on the individual case, and more information is provided later in this post.

Diagnosing Alcohol-Related Dementia

A male patient talking to a female therapist

Most medical professionals in the modern world refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) when diagnosing patients with known disorders.

The most up-to-date version of the DSM as this post is written is the DSM-V.

The DSM outlines the criteria for diagnosing specific disorders, generally by providing a list of symptoms and diagnosing individuals based on how many of these symptoms they display regularly.

Some symptoms of alcohol-related dementia in the DSM-V include:

  • agnosia – difficulty in recognising objects
  • aphasia – difficulties producing language
  • apraxia – impaired movement/motor ability
  • executive functioning difficulties – planning, organising, etc.,

After a medical professional has asked about the individual’s symptoms, they will then determine whether or not these symptoms are imposing on the individual’s daily life, affecting their ability to go about their daily routine, or affecting other areas of the individual’s life such as their social life, career, and finances.

Treatment for Alcohol-Related Dementia


As mentioned previously, treatment for alcohol-related dementia itself will generally begin with the supplement of vitamin B1 and doses of thiamine in order to try and restore some of the brain’s functioning and prevent any further damage.

If the individual is struggling with alcohol-related dementia as a result of heavy alcohol consumption and/or alcohol addiction, then there are many options which individuals should consider.

This can range from taking part in local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings to admission into a rehabilitation centre, depending on the requirements of and appropriateness for the individual.

For elderly individuals (where a high proportion of alcohol-related dementia is found), the most suitable option for treatment is entering a residential rehab centre (2).

This will allow for the most efficient and effective treatment for the individual, as they will have access to specialised and tailored care. More information on residential rehab centres can be found later in this post.

Every individual will require a different treatment programme, and this is where Rehab Recovery can help, suggesting the most suitable and appropriate care for each individual case as they come; there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to treatment.

Alcohol Dependence


When an individual consumes large amounts of alcohol regularly over long periods of time, then they are likely to develop an addiction.

This is known as an alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder

This is because alcohol is known as a physically addictive substance, making changes within the brain and becoming a part of everyday functioning and the vital production of chemicals within the body.

Without alcohol, these normal processes within the body would struggle to function, leading to the developed ‘need’ to consume more alcohol.

This is why going ‘cold turkey’ (i.e., stopping alcohol consumption suddenly) can be very dangerous as the body is now dependent on alcohol for the production and management of vital chemicals.

When someone is struggling with an alcohol addiction, stopping can be very challenging. This is why it is never recommended to go through an alcohol withdrawal alone, and medical supervision should be sought in most cases.

With alcohol dependence, this can continue for long periods of time, increasing the likelihood of developing alcohol-related dementia, as well as lowering the individual’s wellbeing and status of their mental health in the process.

What is Rehabilitation?

Rehabilitation is the process of overcoming addiction and learning how to live with it in the long-term. Through Rehab Recovery, the abstinence approach is always encouraged, referring to the situation in which the individual stops consuming alcohol gradually over time before completely cutting alcohol out from their lifestyle.

This has been shown to be the most effective approach to rehab as it focuses directly on the origins, causes, and treating the effects of addiction, rather than other approaches such as moderation management which mainly seek to reduce the negative impacts of addiction rather than treat them at their root.

During rehabilitation, individuals will likely to through three key stages:

  • Detoxification – removing harmful chemicals from the body that have built up as a result of addiction, includes stopping the consumption of alcohol gradually over time, deals with any withdrawal symptoms that the individual may also face
  • Rehabilitation/therapy – this is where the individual will experience the bulk of their treatment including addiction treatment programmes, holistic treatments, and a wide range of therapy techniques
  • Aftercare – this is any support individuals receive after undergoing the bulk of their rehabilitative treatment, can include meetings with recovery support officers or further individual learning. This is a beneficial and effective final stage of rehab as it is highly effective, but more options are needed for individuals across the UK (3).

Getting Help for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

Two women talking one-to-one at a table

No two individuals will have the same experience of treatment for alcohol abuse and addiction, as well as for the treatment of alcohol-related dementia.

This is why Rehab Recovery will undergo a full initial assessment before offering any suggestions for the future of the individual’s recovery.

In some cases, individuals may need to get in contact with other services (and will be supported in doing so), but where this is not necessary then individuals will be offered further treatment.

This initial assessment will include the following features:

  • individual’s current health
  • individual’s mental health
  • individual’s physical condition
  • individual’s current living situation/environment (includes places and people)
  • any history of substance abuse and/or risk of dementia

Once a member of the Rehab Recovery team has made note of this information, the individual will be able to progress through our referral system, gaining access to treatment programmes, therapies, and other techniques to aid and support their journey moving forward.

Find an Inpatient Treatment Centre Now

With hundreds of specialised centres available across the UK as well as in other countries (if appropriate and/or necessary), Rehab Recovery will help you find one that is suitable for your every need and requirement.

Through inpatient care, individuals will stay within a dedicated establishment, away from home. As part of their daily life, they will take part in multiple addiction treatment programme activities, working with others and one-on-one with a therapist to create coping mechanisms and techniques to manage their addiction and/or symptoms of alcohol-related dementia in the long term.

In addition, individuals who opt for rehabilitation through a residential centre will have access to 24/7 care, expert and specialised staff, as well as a full detox session with all the necessary resources may need.

Get in touch today to see how we can help you or someone you know find the perfect residential rehab centre.

Get Help Now

Rehab Recovery is a dedicated referral service, working hard over our many years of service to match individuals to suitable care and treatment.

Alcohol-related dementia can have serious impacts on individuals’ lives; this is why it is so important to us that all of the effects of this disease are considered, both for the wellbeing of the individual and also for those around them who may be affected.

To find out more about Rehab 4 Alcoholism can help you or someone you love with issues relating to alcohol addictions, alcohol-related dementia, or any other substance-related effects, please do not hesitate to get in contact with a member of our addiction support team on X today.


[1] National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome:’s,the%20brain%20involved%20with%20memory.

[2] Kraemer, K.L., Conigliaro, J. and Saitz, R., 1999. Managing alcohol withdrawal in the elderly. Drugs & aging, 14(6), pp.409-425.

[3] Vanderplasschen, W., Bloor, M. and McKeganey, N., 2010. Long-term outcomes of aftercare participation following various forms of drug abuse treatment in Scotland. Journal of Drug issues, 40(3), pp.703-728.

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