Credit: © Andrey Cherkasov / Fotolia

Credit: © Andrey Cherkasov / Fotolia

Alcohol use is the biggest risk factor for dementia

Alcohol use is the biggest risk factor for dementia, according to the latest research from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association:

Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.

The new study looked specifically at the effect of alcohol use disorder and its relation to dementia risk.

Of the 57,000 dementia cases in the study, the majority (57%) were related to heavy drinking.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines chronic heavy drinking as consuming more than 60 grams of pure alcohol on average daily — for men 4-5 drinks per day — for women about 3 drinks per day.

The study authors suggest that screening, interventions, and treatment for alcohol disorders should be implemented to reduce dementia related to alcohol overuse.

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,” says study co-author and Director of the CAMH Institute for Mental Health Policy Research Dr. Jürgen Rehm. “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 notes that heavy drinking disorders can reduce life expectancy by up to 20 years, and dementia is one of the leading causes in those people.

As a geriatric psychiatrist, I frequently see the effects of alcohol use disorder on dementia, when unfortunately alcohol treatment interventions may be too late to improve cognition,” says CAMH Vice-President of Research Dr. Bruce Pollock. “Screening for and reduction of problem drinking, and treatment for alcohol use disorders need to start much earlier in primary care.”

The study showing that alcohol use is the biggest risk factor for dementia was published in The Lancet Public Health journal. 

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1. “Largest Study of Its Kind Finds Alcohol Use Biggest Risk Factor for Dementia.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 20 Feb. 2018,

2. “Contribution of Alcohol Use Disorders to the Burden of Dementia in France 2008–13: a Nationwide Retrospective Cohort Study.” The Lancet Public Health, The Lancet Public Health, Mar. 2018,
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