While some studies have shown a possible benefit of light-to-moderate drinking, chronic heavy drinking is a major risk factor for all types of dementia, especially early onset of the disease, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
Researchers examining more than 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia (before the age of 65) in France found that well over half (57%) were either alcohol-related, or accompanied by an additional diagnosis of alcohol abuse.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines chronic heavy drinking as consuming more than 60 grams pure alcohol on average per day for men (about three pints of beer) and 40 grams per day for women.
The authors of the study suggest that screening, interventions for heavy drinking, and treatment for alcohol use disorders should be implemented to reduce the impact alcohol has on a person developing dementia.
“The findings indicate that heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are the most important risk factors for dementia, and especially important for those types of dementia which start before age 65, and which lead to premature deaths,” study co-author Dr Jürgen Rehm said.
Alcohol-induced brain damage and dementia are preventable, and known-effective preventive and policy measures can make a dent into premature dementia deaths.
Dr Rehm added that, on average, alcohol use disorders shorten life expectancy by more than 20 years, and dementia is one of the leading causes of death for these people.
In the study there was a significant gender split in terms of early-onset dementia. While the overall majority of dementia patients were women, almost two-thirds of all early-onset dementia patients (64.9%) were men.
Alcohol use disorders were also associated with all other independent risk factors for dementia onset, including smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, lower education, depression and hearing loss. The authors said this suggests that such disorders may contribute in many ways to the risk of dementia.
“The link between dementia and alcohol use disorders … is likely a result of alcohol leading to permanent structural and functional brain damage,” said lead author Michael Schwarzinger, a scientist at the Translational Health Economics Network in Paris.