Alcohol Induced Dementia: Signs and Symptoms

The common warning “don’t drink and drive” makes it clear that alcohol consumption affects the brain.  The slurred speech, impaired coordination, or brief blackouts that accompany a bout of heavy drinking may be only temporary.

But abusing alcohol for long periods can cause alcohol-induced dementia – serious and potentially permanent damage to parts of the brain.

If you believe you or someone you love has alcohol induced dementia, call 800-839-1686Who Answers? now to find treatment.

What Causes Alcohol Induced Dementia?

Alcohol is actually a neurotoxin, a substance that can have harmful effects on the brain and nervous system. Alcohol slows the functioning of the brain’s neurotransmitters – chemicals that pass messages between neurons, the trillions of tiny cells that allow the brain’s many systems to process information and control the body’s functions.

Alcohol’s effect on the brain’s centers for things like coordination, memory and emotion accounts for the all too familiar staggering, slurring and uncontrolled emotions that accompany a night of drinking.

Those effects are temporary, though, and once the alcohol leaves the system, things generally return to normal.   But long-term, steady drinking actually alters the brain’s neurons, causing brain cells to shrink. Over time, the brain itself can become smaller.

Chronic, heavy drinking over time also damages the liver, an organ responsible for clearing toxins from the body.  When the liver doesn’t function well due to alcohol related diseases such as cirrhosis, toxic substances including ammonia and manganese enter the bloodstream and circulate to the brain, causing more damage to its cells.

Symptoms of Alcohol Induced Dementia

Alcohol Induced Dementia

Paranoia and suspicion are common personality changes that occur with alcohol induced dementia.

Changes in the brain’s structure, along with imbalances in the amount of brain chemicals such as serotonin and glutamate, can cause a number of symptoms similar to those seen in Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia.

Short and long term memory loss

Forgetting where you’ve been or what you did while drinking is a well-known side effect of alcohol. But for sufferers of alcohol-induced dementia, memory loss can be persistent and severe, leading to disorientation and an inability to function in daily life.

Impaired coordination

Alcohol induced dementia can affect areas of the brain responsible for motor skills and spatial orientation.  This can lead to problems with:

  • Walking steadily
  • Maintaining balance
  • Staying oriented in space.
  • Buttoning clothes or tying shoes

Nerve damage in arms and legs

Paralysis and numbness in limbs and digits can also be related to alcohol-induced dementia, when brain cells responsible for nerve function are damaged.

Problems with “executive functions”

The cerebral cortex is responsible for a long list of functions including decision-making and critical thinking. When alcohol causes damage in this area of the brain,  it can affect:

  • Planning and organizing
  • Prioritizing
  • Following instructions
  • Understanding written material
  • Driving to a destination

This is Your Brain on Alcohol

Problems with speech and language

The slurring that comes with a little too much to drink can become permanent in alcohol-induced dementia.  Other speech-related problems include:

  • Forgetting familiar words
  • Problems with organizing sentences
  • Difficulties with pronouncing words

Personality changes

Because alcohol affects the parts of the brain related to memory and emotion, alcohol induced dementia can cause a variety of changes in personality and behavior, such as:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Paranoia and suspicion
  • Depression
  • Psychosis

Treatment Can Help

The effects of long-term alcohol abuse can often be treated successfully, so that the symptoms of alcohol induced dementia are reduced, if not eliminated entirely.  Treatment typically includes:

  • Stopping alcohol use completely
  • Treating alcohol-related liver disease
  • Eating a healthy diet with adequate vitamin intake

If symptoms are permanent and interfere with daily living, physical therapy and other support services can help.

The effects of long-term alcohol abuse can be severe – but they can also be prevented.  Are you worried about the effects of drinking in your life?  Help is just a phone call away. Contact us at 800-839-1686Who Answers? for the answers you need right now.

How the helpline works

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