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Heavy drinkers put themselves at risk for dementia

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(HealthDay News) -- The ills that are linked to heavy drinking now include dementia, a new study warns.

Researchers analyzed data from more than a million adults in France who were diagnosed with dementia between 2008 and 2013. They found that chronic, heavy drinking was a major risk factor for all types of dementia, but specially early onset dementia.

Overall, alcohol abuse was associated with a three times greater risk for all types of dementia. Alcohol was a factor in 57 percent of the 57,000 cases of early onset dementia, which is dementia that develops before age 65.

The findings suggest that alcohol abuse screening and treatment could reduce the risk of alcohol-related dementia, the researchers said.

The study was published online Feb. 20 in The Lancet Public Health journal.

"The link between dementia and alcohol use disorders needs further research, but is likely a result of alcohol leading to permanent structural and functional brain damage," the study's lead author, Dr. Michael Schwarzinger, said in a journal news release. "Alcohol use disorders also increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure, which may in turn increase the risk of vascular dementia.

"Lastly, heavy drinking is associated with tobacco smoking, depression, and low educational attainment, which are also risk factors for dementia," said Schwarzinger, who's with the Translational Health Economics Network in France.

"Our findings suggest that the burden of dementia attributable to alcohol use disorders is much larger than previously thought, suggesting that heavy drinking should be recognized as a major risk factor for all types of dementia," he said. "A variety of measures are needed, such as reducing availability, increasing taxation and banning advertising and marketing of alcohol, alongside early detection and treatment of alcohol use disorders."

In a commentary published with the study, Clive Balland, a professor at the University of Exeter Medical School in England, called the study "immensely important."

It "highlights the potential of alcohol use disorders, and possibly alcohol consumption, as modifiable risk factors for dementia prevention," he wrote. "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."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on dementia.

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