Alcohol Dementia

Alcohol dementia, also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is a neurological disorder caused by long-term alcohol abuse. It is characterized by memory loss, mobility issues, confabulation, and difficulty learning and retaining new information.

Alcohol Dementia
Alcohol Dementia 

Alcohol Dementia – Is It Really Dementia?

The debate still rages on alcohol dementia. Is it classified as an official form of dementia? Or as a symptom of chronic alcohol abuse? On the one hand, it certainly fits the criteria. …memory loss, the lack of fine motor skills and the inability to learn and retain new information; unlike traditional forms of dementia. The symptoms do decline when the patient stops drinking. They start treatment before permanent brain injury occurs.


Many highly functioning alcoholics are able to keep their drinking habits a secret. Some for long periods of time.  Which is why alcohol dementia can be hard to diagnose. Once a doctor is aware of the long-term alcohol abuse, the symptoms become clearer. Then treatment is a possibility. From a friend and family perspective, key symptoms of alcohol dementia include:

  • Short-term memory loss – Alcohol abuse is one of the leading causes of memory loss in America. This is because high blood alcohol levels damage certain parts of the brain. The frontal lobe in the brain, is where conscious thought and short term memory is stored. The temporal lobe is the location for speech and motor movement. Patients will still be able to remember long-term facts. They will find it hard to retain new information. And may become easily confused during a conversation.
  • Mobility problems… At the peak of the alcohol abuse, alcohol induced dementia causes balance issues. The link between brain and body becomes weakened. Sufferers will find simple tasks such as walking and eating much harder. Observers may notice a shaking or unsteadiness in the arms and legs. As a result of the ataxia, this symptom should be reported to a doctor straight away.
  • Confabulation – This is the medical term for chronic lying . It is one of the key signs of alcohol dementia. Patients who abuse alcohol make up stories. Initially to cover the gaps in their memories. Over time they come to believe the lies to be true. Researchers in this field called this condition Korsakoff Psychosis. They found patients would happily construct fantasy worlds. The word psychosis has fallen out of fashion. Clinicians argued that patients didn’t see their fantasy world in the present. They are only remembering memories of the past.

It is clear that chronic alcohol abuse is the root cause of alcohol dementia. It is important to understand the science on how regularly consuming large amounts of liquor causes brain damage?

Research shows neurological disorders caused by alcohol stem from a lack of thiamine. This is also known as vitamin B1. Vitamin B1 occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables. So it is very rare for someone to suffer a deficiency from their diet. However, alcoholics tend to eat very little. They also eat very poorly. So, sometimes, a poor diet causes the thiamine deficiency.

In other cases, the sheer amount of alcohol consumed affects the stomach. Interfering with the intestines’ ability to absorb nutrients. In these cases, vitamin deficiency symptoms occur along with the dementia.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Most forms of alcohol dementia are actually cases of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. This is two separate diseases that are both caused by sustained alcohol abuse:

  • Wernicke’s encephalopathy … This is a form of alcoholic encephalopathy, which occurs without any warning. Some very noticeable symptoms happen including: … jerky eye movements, drowsiness even in the middle of the day and poor balance due to the onset of ataxia. Wernicke’s disease treatment is medication. And making the encephalopathy alcoholic patient to withdraw entirely from alcohol. Early intervention prevents long-term brain damage. It can reverse symptoms often in the course of a week.
  • Korsakoff’s syndrome Korsakoff’s syndrome appears after Wernicke’s . It is the name for the symptoms of the long-term brain damage. This occurs from untreated Wernicke’s encephalopathy. Symptoms include…. memory loss, agitation and behavior changes such as irritability and irrational aggression. Again, treatment is possible if the symptoms are caught Many doctors will prescribe higher levels of thiamine. This is to help boost the patient’s brain function. It’s unclear if this makes a significant difference in affecting symptoms. The symptoms may disappear with this intervention. It does appear to reduce the chances of Korsakoff’s occurring again.

Dealing with someone with alcohol dementia in hard. They do not realize that they have a problem. The confabulation symptom means that in their mind they can justify their actions. It has lead many family members to find ways of recording evidence. They use this to show the doctor and as proof for the patient themselves.

If the condition goes untreated, it can develop into other more serious forms of dementia. Or other forms of mental illness. So it’s important to get help as soon as possible…. regardless if it is viewed as dementia or as a symptom of chronic alcoholism.

Have more questions? Check out the Frequently Asked Question section of the website. You will find a lot of different questions answered directly.
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