Alcohol-related dementia (alcohol-induced dementia; alcohol-related brain damage)

Jane Marshall

in New Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry

Second edition

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199696758
Published online October 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191743221 | DOI:
Alcohol-related dementia (alcohol-induced dementia; alcohol-related brain damage)

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Long-term heavy alcohol consumption causes significant brain abnormalities and impairs cognitive functioning. A number of terms have been used to describe these effects, including: ‘alcohol-related dementia’, ‘alcohol-induced dementia’, and ‘alcoholic dementia’. The more pragmatic umbrella term ‘alcohol-related brain damage’ (ARBD) is also used. The literature is beset with limitations, in particular the lack of a diagnostic gold standard, and the difficulty in making a clinical diagnosis. Many individuals labelled as having an alcohol-related dementia are, in fact, suffering from the Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome (WKS). (This is a specific neuropathological disease caused by thiamine deficiency, which can occur secondary to alcohol misuse. It is considered in Chapter 4.1.12.) When considering the topic of ‘alcohol-related dementia’ it is probably sensible to take a broad clinically-based diagnostic view that includes both WKS and other cases of ‘dementia’ that appear to be alcohol-related. Alcohol-related dementia should be recognized as a preventable condition. However, identification is hampered by a lack of clarity in terminology, and a lack of standardized and specialized screening instruments and assessment procedures. These individuals make repeated use of Accident and Emergency Departments, general medical, and long stay wards. Early identification would reduce their need for these services. Abstinence is the key to recovery. Treatment services should be integrated and flexible.

Chapter.  3370 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry ; Neurology

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