Too much alcohol can cause similar effects to dementia – and the two are often confused
An avoidable condition. Shutterstock
In the UK, 21% of people drink more alcohol than they did before the pandemic, according to a recent survey. This follows a reported 31% increase in alcohol sales at the beginning of the ban.
While pubs and restaurants were forced to close their doors, off-licenses were considered essential retailers. And when traditional social gatherings were put on hold, virtual pub quizzes and online parties quickly replaced them. Twitter hashtags like #Quarantini and #FerloughMerlot showed that drinking was a key element of the pandemic for many.
Some may have turned to alcohol to relieve anxiety, relieve stress, or even to fill up the time they normally spend in the gym or to socialize. Whatever the reason, although most drinkers are aware of the effects alcohol can have on their liver or waist, many don't know how excessive (and continuous) drinking can damage the brain in the long term.
Read more: How the coronavirus is testing our relationship with alcohol
Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) are unrecognized related conditions that involve structural and functional changes in the brain. It can affect memory, thinking, planning and thinking and can cause changes in personality and behavior.
There is currently a lack of awareness of ARBD in public and among clinical specialists, one of whom told us that case detection and diagnosis is a "major problem". Signs of ARBD can even be mistaken for a drunken outbreak, while stigma is also an obstacle to recognizing and treating people with this condition.
ARBD often begins with mild symptoms, but can cause more serious problems if alcohol is still consumed in harmful amounts (defined as 35 units - approximately four bottles of wine - per week for women and 50 units for men).
The first signs of ARBD are impulsive behavior, problems with planning and decision-making, as well as difficulties in creating and storing new memories. Some may also experience confabulations that are false or distorted "memories".
Essential service? Shutterstock / Happy Stock Photo
Men suffer from ARBD more often, although studies indicate that women may be more susceptible to the effects of alcohol because women develop the disease at a significantly younger age than men. The mid to late 1950s had the highest ARBD rates in both sexes, but some cases were reported below the age of 35.
Abstinence and recovery
These symptoms often overlap with some signs of dementia. Studies have shown that up to 24% of all dementia cases are actually ARBD. While dementia patients rarely notice an improvement in their condition, patients with ARBD have the potential to at least partially recover. Therefore, it is important to differentiate the condition from dementia by taking into account the drinking history and finding signs of improvement or stabilization.
Treatment for ARBD typically means abstinence from alcohol, followed by rehabilitation. It usually takes at least three months without alcohol to determine if there are improvements or signs that the damage could be reversible. There is no agreed “safety limit” once someone is diagnosed, and a lot of alcohol can probably do more harm.
Although ARBD is often difficult to diagnose, a report in Wales suggests an increase of 38.5% of those diagnosed with the disease over a five-year period.
The increase in ARBD is also not limited to people with a poorer socio-economic background. They are known to have a high rate of disease. However, recent figures show that people who work are more likely to drink alcohol than people with lower incomes.
Although alcohol can be relieved of life's stress in the short term, especially during a pandemic, many drinkers may develop an unhealthy habit with alcohol that damages their brain. However, one of the characteristic features of ARBD is that it is an avoidable, treatable, and possibly reversible condition if it is recognized and treated early.
To keep control over alcohol consumption, the World Health Organization suggests keeping a routine as much as possible and drawing attention to the things that can be controlled. Instead of spending time drinking alcohol, this could be replaced by physical activity that is known to boost the immune system and promote mental health.
So before you grab your # Quarantini cocktail, it's important to consider the long-term effects of these types of habits - both on the brain and on the liver.
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Bev John received funding from European Social Funds / Welsh Government, Alcohol Concern (now Alcohol Change), Research Councils and the personal research budget of a number of Welsh Senedd members.
Gareth Roderique-Davies has received funding from the European Social Fund / Welsh Government, Alcohol Concern (now Alcohol Change), Research Councils and the personal research budget of a number of Welsh Senedd members.
Rebecca Ward does not work for companies or organizations that would benefit from this article and does not consult any shares or companies that would benefit from this article and has not disclosed any relevant affiliations beyond her academic appointment.
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