Alcohol Induced Dementia Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, & Alcohol Dementia Treatment

Alcohol-induced dementia, also known as alcohol-related dementia or alcohol-related brain damage, is a condition that can occur as a result of long-term excessive alcohol consumption. Continue to read about alcohol induced dementia symptoms, causes, risks, and treatment options.

What is Alcoholic Dementia?

Alcohol dementia name is used to describe a form of dementia that is resulted from long-term excessive alcohol consumption. It refers to the cognitive and neurological impairments that result from the toxic effects of alcohol on the brain.

The condition is marked by progressive cognitive decline and functional impairment. Alcohol induced dementia is a type of brain damage often associated with other conditions, such as liver disease and nutritional deficiencies.

The treatment involves abstinence from alcohol, supportive care, and rehabilitation strategies to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. It is crucial to seek medical evaluation and guidance from healthcare professionals experienced in alcoholism and dementia for proper diagnosis and management.

Alcohol Dementia Stages

Alcohol-related dementia can overlap with other types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia, especially in cases of long-term and heavy alcohol abuse. Alcohol onset dementia can progress through different stages as the condition worsens. Here are some general alcoholic dementia stages that may be observed:

Early Stage Alcoholic Dementia

In the early stages of alcoholic dementia, individuals may experience subtle cognitive changes affecting their thinking and memory. Here are some common symptoms observed in the early stage of alcoholic dementia:

  • Memory impairment.
  • Difficulty with concentration and attention.
  • Impaired decision-making.
  • Reduced processing speed.
  • Mild language and communication challenges.
  • Mood and behavior changes.
Severe Stage

In the severe stage of alcohol-related dementia, cognitive impairment becomes more severe and widespread. Memory loss becomes more profound, and individuals may struggle to recognize familiar people and places. Language and communication skills deteriorate, leading to difficulty finding words or understanding others.

Daily functioning is significantly impaired, and individuals may require assistance with basic activities of daily living. Behavioral symptoms include the following:

  • Agitation and irritability.
  • Aggression.
  • Wandering.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Disorientation and confusion.
  • Inappropriate behavior.
  • Sleep disturbances.
Moderate Stage

In the moderate stage, cognitive impairment becomes more evident and pronounced. Memory loss and difficulties with thinking and problem-solving become more noticeable.

  • Individuals may struggle to recall past events or retain new information.
  • They may have challenges with organization, planning, and decision-making.
  • Behavioral changes, such as increased irritability or apathy, may also emerge.

Dementia from Alcoholism Causes & Risk Factors

Can alcoholism cause dementia? Yes. Below are the risk factors contributing to the development of alcoholic dementia signs and symptoms:

  • Chronic and Excessive Alcohol Consumption.
    • The risk increases with prolonged and excessive alcohol consumption, typically defined as consuming more than the recommended limits over an extended period. The NIAAA describes heavy alcohol use as more than 4 drinks for males and more than 3 drinks daily for women.
  • Duration of Alcohol Abuse.
    • Individuals consuming alcohol excessively for many years are at a higher risk.
  • Alcohol Dependency and Alcohol Use Disorder.
    • Alcohol dependency significantly increases the risk of developing alcoholic dementia. Those who struggle with alcoholism are likelier to experience cognitive impairments and brain damage associated with alcohol abuse.
  • Genetic Factors.
    • Genetic predisposition can influence an individual’s susceptibility to alcohol-related cognitive decline. Some individuals may have genetic variations that make them more prone to the damaging effects of alcohol on the brain.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies.
    • Chronic alcohol drinking can lead to nutritional deficiencies, particularly in vitamins such as thiamine (B1).
  • Co-occurring Health Conditions.
    • Certain co-occurring health conditions, such as liver disease, pancreatitis, or malnutrition, can increase the risk of alcoholic dementia. These conditions often coexist with alcohol abuse.
  • Age and Gender.
    • Older individuals and men are generally at a higher risk of developing alcoholic dementia. However, alcohol abuse can affect people of any age or gender.

Abstinence from alcohol all cause dementia is crucial. Seeking help for alcohol abuse, reducing alcohol consumption, and addressing co-occurring health conditions are essential in mitigating the risk of developing alcoholic dementia.

Dementia and Alcoholism Effects on the Brain

Dementia and alcoholism can both have detrimental effects on the brain. Dementia leads to neurodegeneration, the formation of plaques and tangles, brain shrinkage, and neurotransmitter imbalances, resulting in cognitive decline and memory loss. Alcoholism causes direct toxic effects on the brain, leading to neuronal damage, inflammation, and oxidative stress.

Abstinence from alcohol dementia can benefit brain health and potentially slow the progression of alcohol-related cognitive impairments. If you need help with alcohol abstinence dementia, seeking support from an alcohol addiction treatment center is significant as they have experience and proper training for this condition.

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Alcoholic Dementia Symptoms

The broader category of alcohol induced dementia includes Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a type of dementia characterized by poor planning, judgment, and thinking. Symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome may present as someone asking repetitious questions or telling the same stories with no recollection of the questions being asked and answered. In conversation, someone may repeat the same information 20 times, remaining unaware that they are repeating the same thing in a stereotyped expression.

Physical Alcohol Dementia Symptoms

When people drink too much alcohol over many years, they may experience alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD), sometimes called alcohol induced dementia. This brain damage condition is associated with physical symptoms including the following:

  • Muscle weakness and atrophy.
  • Problems with a walk (gait) and coordination.
  • Decreased or abnormal reflexes.
  • Fast pulse (heart rate).
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Abnormal eye movement.
  • Low body temperature.

Can alcohol cause dementia? Yes. Regular heavy drinking can cause ARBD in a range of ways:

  • The toxins from alcohol cause cell damage.
  • Shrinkage of brain tissues.
  • Thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency due to alcohol’s interference in the storage and usage of thiamine, poor absorption of the nutrient due to alcohol’s irritating effects on the gastrointestinal system, and poor diet.
  • Alcohol-related cerebrovascular disease.
  • Head injuries sustained while under the influence of alcohol. 

Alcohol-Induced Dementia Fact Sheet

Alcohol and Dementia Risk

Some studies suggest that moderate alcohol drinking may protect against dementia. Average consumption typically refers to up to 1 standard alcoholic drink per day for females and up to 2 standard alcoholic drinks per day for males. This protective effect, if present, is thought to be related to certain compounds found in alcoholic beverages, such as antioxidants and polyphenols.

However, heavy and chronic alcohol abuse significantly increases the risk of developing dementia. Excessive alcohol consumption over a prolonged period can lead to alcohol-related brain damage, including cognitive impairment, memory loss, and other forms of dementia, such as alcohol-related dementia or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

Alcohol and Dementia Harvard Study

According to a Harvard study, individuals with mild cognitive impairment who drank heavily (more than 14 alcoholic drinks per week) had a 72% higher risk for dementia than individuals who drank less than one alcoholic drink per week.

Does alcoholism cause dementia? Yes. Multiple studies have consistently shown that heavy and chronic alcohol abuse increases the risk of developing dementia. Prolonged alcohol abuse can lead to alcohol-related brain damage and cognitive impairment. The risk is exceptionally high for people with an alcohol use disorder history or those who engage in heavy drinking over a long period.

In-Depth Signs of Alcoholic Dementia

Memory impairment is a hallmark feature of alcoholic dementia. Individuals may have difficulty remembering recent events, conversations, or essential information. They may also struggle with forming new memories. Further alcoholism dementia symptoms include the following:

  • Executive Dysfunction: Individuals may experience difficulties organizing tasks, initiating and completing activities, and maintaining focus.
  • Language and Communication Problems: People with alcoholic dementia may struggle with verbal fluency, have difficulty following conversations, or exhibit poor comprehension.
  • Impaired Judgment and Problem-Solving: Individuals may exhibit impulsive behaviors, make poor financial choices, or struggle with reasoning and logical thinking.
  • Behavioral Changes: Individuals with alcoholic dementia may become more irritable, agitated, or apathetic. Mood swings, anxiety, and depression can also be observed.
  • Confusion and Disorientation: Individuals may have difficulty recognizing familiar surroundings or people and may experience a sense of being lost or disoriented.
  • Motor Impairments: Alcoholic dementia may result in unsteady gait, clumsiness, and difficulties with tasks requiring precise movements.

The alcohol dementia signs and symptoms can overlap with other dementia forms, such as Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia. A comprehensive evaluation by healthcare professionals experienced in dementia and addiction is necessary for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management of alcoholic dementia.

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Alcohol Induced Dementia Statistics

Alcohol-related dementia often coexists with other health conditions associated with alcohol abuse, such as liver disease, malnutrition, and vitamin deficiencies. These comorbidities can further contribute to cognitive impairment and dementia.

The symptoms of alcoholic dementia can be prevented or slowed by addressing alcohol abuse, promoting abstinence, and managing related health conditions. Seeking professional help and support from healthcare providers experienced in addiction and dementia is crucial for accurate diagnosis, appropriate treatment, and support for individuals affected by alcohol-induced dementia.


Research estimates suggest that alcohol-related dementia accounts for approximately 10% of all cases of dementia.

Source: NCBI


Studies found that sustained mild alcohol drinkers had a 21% decreased risk of all-cause dementia.

Source: NCBI


Sustained heavy alcohol drinkers had an 8% increased risk of developing dementia related to alcohol.

Source: NCBI

Diagnosing Dementia Alcoholism

Diagnosing dementia related to alcoholism involves a comprehensive assessment that considers the individual’s medical history, alcohol consumption patterns, cognitive function, and other relevant facets. To diagnose symptoms of alcohol dementia, medical professionals may conduct the following:

  • Gathering Information About the Patient’s Medical History.
    • A healthcare professional will gather information about the individual’s medical history, including alcohol use, duration and intensity of alcohol abuse, and any previous treatment for alcoholism.
  • Physical Examination.
    • A physical examination may be conducted to assess overall health, detect any signs of alcohol-related complications, and rule out other potential causes of cognitive impairment.
Alcohol addiction treatment centers are needed more than ever.  Over 6 million Americans struggle with alcohol addiction and are at higher risk of developing alcohol induced dementia.
Alcohol addiction treatment centers are needed more than ever. Over 6 million Americans struggle with alcohol addiction and are at higher risk of developing alcohol induced dementia.
  • Cognitive Assessment.
    • Various cognitive tests and assessments, such as the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) or Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), can be administered to evaluate cognitive function, memory, attention, language, and other mental abilities. Discrepancies between cognitive impairment and overall intelligence or prior cognitive abilities may suggest alcohol-related dementia.
  • Imaging Studies.
    • Brain imaging tests, including (MRI) magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography (CT) scans, may be performed to assess the brain’s structure and detect any signs of brain damage or abnormalities.
  • Laboratory Tests.
    • Blood tests may be conducted to assess liver function, nutritional deficiencies (e.g., thiamine or vitamin B1 deficiency) and screen for other possible causes of cognitive impairment.
  • Assessment of Alcohol Use Disorder.
    • An evaluation of alcohol use disorder (AUD) may be carried out using standardized diagnostic criteria, such as those outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This evaluation helps establish a clear link between alcohol abuse and cognitive impairment.
  • Differential Diagnosis.
    • It is crucial to differentiate alcohol-related dementia from other forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia, as the treatment and management approaches may differ. Comprehensive assessment and evaluation help rule out other potential causes and confirm alcohol-related dementia.

It is crucial to seek the assistance and expertise of healthcare professionals experienced in diagnosing and treating dementia and alcoholism. They can conduct a thorough evaluation, accurately diagnose, and develop a suitable treatment program tailored to the individual’s needs.

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Dementia Caused By Alcoholism Treatment

For all alcohol-related brain damage and alcohol-induced dementia cases, avoiding alcohol intake is a cornerstone of treatment and recovery. Getting into treatment that includes a medically-assisted detox is essential to alleviate withdrawal symptoms once you discontinue alcohol intake. These can include sweating, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, agitation, delirium, hallucinations, and seizures.

Your loved one will then also need treatment and support to stay away from alcohol which may include a stay in an addiction treatment rehabilitation facility, medications to reduce cravings for alcohol, and participation in self-help groups. Talk to your loved one’s doctor about treatment options and resources.

Treating alcoholism involves a multidimensional approach, including medical interventions, counseling, support groups, and behavioral therapies. This comprehensive treatment approach can address the physical, psychological, and social aspects of alcohol addiction, which can positively affect overall well-being, including cognitive function.

Contact We Level Up treatment center for treatment resources and referrals if you don’t know where to start. You can call us for a free alcoholism symptoms assessment. Each call is private and confidential.

Detoxification should be conducted under medical supervision to ensure the individual's safety and to provide the necessary support for addiction treatment. If you're looking for a rehab for alcoholism, consider inpatient programs to ensure 24/7 support. Recovery from alcoholism can greatly help a person prevent alcohol induced dementia.
Detoxification should be conducted under medical supervision to ensure the individual’s safety and to provide the necessary support for addiction treatment. If you’re looking for a rehab for alcoholism, consider inpatient programs to ensure 24/7 support. Recovery from alcoholism can greatly help a person prevent alcohol induced dementia.

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Top 3 What is Alcohol Dementia? FAQs

  1. Does alcohol cause dementia?

    Yes, excessive and long-term alcohol consumption can contribute to the development of dementia. Alcohol-related dementia, also known as alcohol-induced dementia or alcohol-related brain damage, is a form of dementia directly linked to chronic and heavy alcohol abuse. Excessive alcohol drinking over an extended period can harm the brain, leading to cognitive impairment and memory loss.

  2. Should dementia patients drink alcohol?

    No, it is generally not recommended for individuals with dementia to consume alcohol. Dementia is a condition that affects cognitive function, memory, and behavior, and alcohol can have several adverse effects that can worsen the symptoms and overall well-being of individuals with dementia.

  3. What is the alcohol dementia life expectancy?

    Individuals with alcohol-related dementia may have a shorter life expectancy than those without or with other forms of dementia. The progression of alcohol-related dementia can vary, and some individuals may experience a rapid decline in cognitive function and overall health.

Alcoholism Treatment. Alcohol Use Disorder. Is Alcohol Addictive? Why Is Alcohol Addictive

By addressing alcoholism and promoting abstinence from alcohol, further damage to the brain can be avoided. This can slow the progression of alcohol related dementia symptoms and potentially improve cognitive function.

Individuals with alcohol induced dementia symptoms may benefit from supportive care, including cognitive rehabilitation, occupational therapy, and assistance with daily living activities. These interventions can help individuals cope with cognitive impairments and improve their quality of life.

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Alcoholism Treatment. Alcohol Use Disorder Video Transcript.

There are several names for alcoholism, such as alcohol addiction and alcohol dependency. It is now officially known as an alcohol use disorder. It happens when you drink so much alcohol that your body finally develops an addiction. When this occurs, alcohol takes on a major role in your life. Each technique used in alcoholism therapy for alcohol use disorder is intended to help you completely stop binge drinking. 

Alcoholism is characterized as an alcohol use disorder. It is a pattern of binge drinking referred to as alcoholism. The likelihood of controlling your drinking, being concerned with alcohol, and continuing to consume alcohol even when it creates problems increases if you have excessive drinking issues. When you abruptly cut back or quit drinking, you may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms or need to drink more to achieve the same impact. 

Any alcohol usage that threatens your health or safety or results in other alcohol-related issues is considered unhealthy. A pattern of drinking where a man downs five or more drinks in two hours or where a woman downs at least four drinks in two hours is known as binge drinking. Significant threats to one’s health and safety result from binge drinking. 

While some individuals may consume alcohol to the point where it becomes problematic, they are not physically dependent. Alcohol abuse used to be the term for this. 

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Search We Level Up Alcohol Induced Dementia, Mental Health Topics & Resources

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[2] Rehm J, Hasan OSM, Black SE, Shield KD, Schwarzinger M. Alcohol use and dementia: a systematic scoping review. Alzheimer’s Res Ther. 2019 Jan 5;11(1):1. DOI: 10.1186/s13195-018-0453-0. PMID: 30611304; PMCID: PMC6320619.

[3] Wiegmann C, Mick I, Brandl EJ, Heinz A, Gutwinski S. Alcohol and Dementia – What is the Link? A Systematic Review. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2020 Jan 9;16:87-99. DOI: 10.2147/NDT.S198772. PMID: 32021202; PMCID: PMC6957093.

[4] Alcohol Use and the Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

[5] Alcohol Use and Your Health – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

[6] Huebner RB, Kantor LW. Advances in alcoholism treatment. Alcohol Res Health. 2011;33(4):295-9. PMID: 23580014; PMCID: PMC3860532.

[7] Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. A Guide to Substance Abuse Services for Primary Care Clinicians. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 1997. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 24.) Chapter 5—Specialized Substance Abuse Treatment Programs. Available from:

[8] LaHood AJ, Kok SJ. Ethanol Toxicity. [Updated 2023 Mar 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:

[9] Alcohol’s Effects on Health – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

[10] Alcohol’s Effect on Health: NIAAA brochures and fact sheets – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)