Study: Alcohol Abuse Is Biggest Dementia Risk Factor  

Close-up of an aged couple holding champagne flutes. They are both wearing blue shirts.

The Lancet Public Health has published the largest study yet on the link between alcohol abuse and dementia. The study gathered data on all adults discharged from French hospitals between 2008 and 2013. The research found alcohol is the most significant modifiable risk factor for dementia.

Alcohol Abuse: A Dementia Risk Factor

The study analyzed data on 31,624,156 French adults over the age of 20. The analysis included 1,109,343 people diagnosed with dementia, 5.2% of whom had early-onset dementia. Early-onset dementia is dementia that occurs before the age of 65.

Most (57%) cases of early-onset dementia were linked to heavy drinking. This, the researchers say, points to the primary role of alcohol in dementia, particularly in early-onset dementia. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines heavy drinking as 60 grams or more of alcohol (4-5 drinks) per day for men. For women, heavy drinking involves 40 grams or more of alcohol (3 drinks) per day.

Most people with dementia in the study were women. But men accounted for 64.9% of people with early-onset dementia.

Alcohol abuse also correlated with other risk factors for dementia. People who abused alcohol were more likely to experience the following:

  • Tobacco abuse
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Hearing loss
  • Depression
  • Lower educational attainment

These correlations suggest alcohol can interact with lifestyle to increase the risk of dementia.

The study authors say the connection between alcohol abuse and dementia could be even stronger than the research suggests, since they only studied heavy drinkers who had gone to the hospital. The authors believe early detection of alcohol abuse could help prevent many cases of dementia.

Untangling the Relationship Between Alcohol and Dementia

The study did not establish a relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and dementia.

Yet a 2004 review of previous research found a reduced risk of dementia among moderate drinkers. Moderate drinking was defined as having one to three alcoholic beverages per day.

A 2015 study of alcohol consumption found no significant difference in dementia risk between nondrinkers and light drinkers. Yet heavy drinking did increase dementia risk. This study also found a link between the type of alcohol consumed and dementia risk. The consumption of spirits correlated with an increased risk of dementia. Wine consumption appeared to decrease dementia risk (except in cases of heavy drinking).

One type of dementia called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is due to severe vitamin B1 deficiency. The most common cause of this deficiency is alcohol abuse.


  1. Handing, E. P., Andel, R., Kadlecova, P., Gatz, M., & Pedersen, N. L. (2015). Midlife alcohol consumption and risk of dementia over 43 years of follow-up: A population-based study from the Swedish Twin Registry. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 70(10), 1248-1254. doi:10.1093/gerona/glv038
  2. Largest study of its kind finds alcohol use biggest risk factor for dementia. (2018, February 20). ScienceDaily. Retrieved from
  3. Letenneur, L. (2004). Risk of dementia and alcohol and wine consumption: A review of recent results. Biological Research, 37(2). doi:10.4067/s0716-97602004000200003
  4. Schwarzinger, M., Pollock, B. G., Hasan, O. S., Dufouil, C., Rehm, J., Baillot, S., . . . Luchini, S. (2018). Contribution of alcohol use disorders to the burden of dementia in France 2008-13: A nationwide retrospective cohort study. The Lancet Public Health. doi:10.1016/s2468-2667(18)30022-7
  5. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS). (n.d.). Healthline. Retrieved from

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  • Elizabeth B

    March 13th, 2018 at 11:31 AM

    I’m interested in counselors or support groups dealing in narcissistic abuse

  • The Team

    March 13th, 2018 at 12:48 PM

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Thank you for reaching out. If you are trying to find a mental health professional that deals with issues around nacissistic abuse, please feel free to return to our homepage,, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area.

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