When people abuse alcohol they risk long term negative effects to their health. This substance is toxic and so it can cause a great deal of damage to the body and mind. If the individual stops in time they may be able to reverse some of these negative health consequences, but in some cases there will be lasting damage. One of the most disturbing of all of these harmful effects from this type of substance abuse is alcohol induced persistent dementia.
Alcohol induced persistent dementia is closely related to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (wet brain). It is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in that it causes problems with memory and cognitive functioning. Alcohol induced persistent dementia resembles dementia associated with aging, and this means that it can be difficult to differentiate between the two – this is particularly true for people who are over 65 years of age. It is estimated that 80% of alcoholics suffer from thiamine deficiency and it is this that puts them at risk of alcoholic induced persistent dementia.
There are other names used to describe alcohol induced persistent dementia including:
* Alcohol dementia
* Alcoholic dementia
* Alcohol related dementia
* Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
* Wet brain
The symptoms of alcohol dementia include:
* Inability to learn new information.
* Inability to recall information that they previously learned.
* False memories
* Mental confusion
* Problems with language – for example, they may not be able to remember words.
* Loss of ability to carry out purposeful movements – this is referred to as apraxia.
* Problems with recognizing objects – including people they should know.
* Appearing disorientated
* Agitation and paranoia
* Involuntary eye movements
* Fear of being left alone
* They may appear drowsy much of the time.
* The individual may stagger when they try to walk.
* It is common for people with alcoholic dementia to have hallucinations that are quite disturbing.
* Personality changes
* Inability to keep track of time
* Mood swings.
* Involuntary movements of the body in the form of jerky movements.
* Confabulation means that the individual makes up stories to describe their situation.
The individual usually does not have all these symptoms but the memory problems are a key feature of the condition.
As the name implies the cause of alcohol dementia is abuse of this substance. Not only does alcohol have a direct impact on brain cells, but those who overuse this mind-altering chemical will often suffer from nutritional deficiencies. It is a lack of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) that can cause the most damage because it leads to brain atrophy. The worst of this damage will occur in the mammillary bodies. The reason why B1 deficiency is such a problem is that this nutrient is required so that the nerve cells can function properly. Those people who abuse alcohol will tend not to eat properly and this accounts for their nutritional deficiency which can continue for many years and cause a great deal of damage.
The prognosis for alcohol induced dementia depends a great deal on how early the condition is caught. Those individuals who quit their addiction before the condition has had a chance to progress too far will have the best chance of a full recovery. Those who persist with alcohol abuse and a poor diet will reach a stage where the dementia will become a permanent fixture in their life. The way to treat alcohol induced persistent dementia involves:
* Complete abstinence from alcohol
* Fixing any nutritional deficiencies – not only thiamine
* The individual will need to stick to a balanced diet in the future
* Those individuals who have developed more serious dementia may benefit from drugs such as Memantine. This medication does seem to improve cognitive functioning for some people with alcoholic dementia.
* If the individual has persistent dementia they will need a psychiatric evaluation. This is because they may be a risk to themselves or to other people.
* In serious cases long term care will be needed because the individual will be incapable of looking after their own needs. This may involve admittance to a psychiatric unit.
If the individual relapses back to alcohol abuse they are at serious risk of further damage. This means that they will need to make recovery their number one priority. The individual may find it easier to stay sober if they:
* By attending rehab the individual will have the opportunity to learn the skills they need to build a new life. They will also be in a safe and nurturing environment for those early delicate weeks of sobriety.
* The support of family and friends can make a difference to the individual. At the end of the day they can only get sober for themselves, but having people cheering them on will be a great motivator.
* An addiction therapist will be able to help the individual investigate the reasons they fell into substance abuse in the first place. If the root of the problem can be eliminated there will be no need for any further substance abuse.
* Many individuals find that membership of a recovery fellowship makes it easier for them to stay sober. These groups can offer emotional support and a program for building a better life.
* It is often claimed that recovery is a process and not an event. In order to avoid relapse the individual needs to build a life worth living.
As well as staying sober the individual will also need to put effort into eating a balanced diet in future. They can achieve this by:
* Thinking about what they eat and aiming for a balanced diet.
* Learning more about nutrition.
* Speaking to their doctor or dietician about the need to take some type of vitamin supplement.