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Researchers suggest screening, brief interventions for heavy drinking and treatment for alcohol use disorders are needed to reduce the alcohol-attributable burden of dementia.

by Jill Margo 21/2/2018

If you are drinking your troubles away, you soon may not be able to remember them at all.

A nationwide French study has just shown chronic heavy drinking is an especially potent risk factor for developing dementia before the age of 65.

And for those who have made it past 65, the sobering results show chronic heavy drinking is also a big risk factor for all kinds of dementia and that the risk is much higher than previously thought.

The French study suggests heavy drinking leads to permanent structural and functional brain damage. Andrzej Wojcicki

This latest study suggests heavy drinking leads to permanent structural and functional brain damage.

Published in The Lancet Public Health journal, it involved more than a million adults diagnosed with dementia between 2008 and 2013.

The authors say heavy drinking also increases the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, atrial fibrillation and heart failure, which may in turn increase the risk of vascular dementia.

It is also associated with tobacco smoking, depression, and low educational attainment, which are also risk factors for dementia.

Drink and dementia has an eroding force, and the risk of chronic heavy drinking appears to be much higher than previously thought. Stuart Hay

'This evidence is robust'

This study "is immensely important", says Professor Clive Ballard from the University of Exeter Medical School in Britain, in a linked comment in the same journal.

"In our view, this evidence is robust and we should move forward with clear public health messages about the relationship between both alcohol use disorders and alcohol consumption, respectively, and dementia."

The World Health Organisation defines chronic heavy drinking as consuming more than 60 grams of pure alcohol a day for men, which is equivalent to six or more standard Australian drinks a day.

A 30 millilitre nip of spirits is one standard drink, as is 100 millilitres of red wine.

For women, heavy drinking is four or more standard drinks a day.

The study looked specifically at the effect of alcohol disorders. This included people with mental and behavioural disorders or chronic diseases attributable to chronic harmful use of alcohol.

Of the 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia (before 65), the majority were either alcohol-related by definition or had an additional diagnosis of alcohol use disorders.

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