Alcohol Abuse Linked to Memory Loss

Brain function problems more than twice as likely in people who reported history of alcohol use disorders

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Alcohol has established medical links to liver damage, heart trouble and other conditions. But it could also eventually play a part in memory loss.

New research suggests people with a history of alcohol abuse in midlife were more likely than people with no past drinking problems to later have memory loss.

"Limit your alcohol intake as part of a healthy lifestyle."

This study was conducted by Iain Lang, PhD, of the University of Exeter Medical School and senior lecturer in public health for the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care, and colleagues.

The researchers studied the link between a history of alcohol use disorders (AUDs) and problems with thinking and memory. They analyzed 6,542 middle-aged adults born between 1931 and 1941. Study participants were first examined in 1992, with follow-up every other year from 1996 to 2010.

The study authors determined a history of AUDs with the CAGE questionnaire — an acronym for the four questions on the survey: Cut down, Annoyed, Guilty, Eye-opener.

The full questions were as follows: Have you ever felt you should cut down on drinking? Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking? Have you ever felt bad or guilty about drinking? And have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady nerves or get rid of a hangover?

The authors of this study assessed brain function, memory and other measures with a 35-item test. During the follow-up period, 90 participants had severe mental impairment, and 74 had severe memory impairment.

A history of AUDs made it 2.21 times more likely the participant would have severe memory problems. The same relationship with severe cognitive impairment was not found.

“What we did here is investigate the relatively unknown association between having a drinking problem at any point in life and experiencing problems with memory later in life,” Dr. Lang said in a prepared statement.

He said the study findings suggest three things: alcohol-related memory loss needs to taken seriously as a public issue; more research is needed to determine other effects of alcohol use; and the CAGE test may provide doctors with a useful way to determine who is at risk of alcohol-related memory loss.

The findings were published online July 30 in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Funding came from the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care.

The study authors did not disclose any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
July 28, 2014
Last Updated:
July 30, 2014