Alcoholism and Memory Loss
Jeannie Cameron Says...
First of all, Congratulations for the three years you have sober, that is no small feat. I can imagine it must be alarming to experience memory loss at any level. When it comes to memory loss there are a couple of different things that could be going on. Science has made great advancement and new brain scans hit the market in June 2012 that can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease with uncanny efficacy. There are about 300 machines in metropolitan hospitals and it is quite pricey to have the scan. Also, it is a misnomer to think Alzheimer’s is only an elderly disease. A few hundred families worldwide, have rare genes that directly cause Alzheimer’s. People who inherit these rare genes tend to develop symptoms in their 30s, 40s and 50s. http://www.alz.org/national/documents/brochure_earlyonset.pdf
Current research indicates that Alzheimer's disease may be triggered by a multitude of factors, including age, genetic makeup, damage to neurons from the overproduction of toxic free radicals, serious head injuries, brain inflammation, and environmental factors. Both alcohol and Alzheimer’s disease affect the cholinergic system, the biochemistry released and hydrolyzed during nerve conduction. This system is involved in the regulation of memory and learning. Chronic alcohol use decreases acetylcholine levels, reducing its synthesis and release, thus it is plausible that alcohol use could be linked to Alzheimer’s disease through their common effects on this system. D. Allan Butterfield, The Alumni Professor of biological and physical chemistry at the University of Kentucky stated that "Chronic drinking may lead to permanent cognitive deficits." I’ve included the website below to obtain the warning signs to Alzheimer’s disease.
Another chronic memory disorder related to long-time alcohol consumption is called Korsakoff syndrome. This syndrome develops from a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B-1) which helps brain cells produce energy from sugar. When levels fall too low, brain cells cannot generate enough energy to function properly. Korsakoff syndrome is often, but not always, preceded by an episode of Wernicke encephalopathy, which is an acute brain reaction to sever lack of thiamine. Sometimes the condition is called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Korsakoff syndrome causes problems learning new information, inability to remember recent events and long-term memory gaps. Memory problems may be strikingly severe while other thinking and social skills are relatively unaffected. For example, individuals may seem able to carry on a coherent conversation, but moments later be unable to recall that the conversation took place or to whom they spoke.
With all this being said I can tell you that my father, who never drank alcohol, coffee, or soda, never smoked, was health conscious and exercised daily was diagnosed with moderate stage Alzheimer’s at the age of 82. The reason it was diagnosed late was because he went blind late in life from macular degeneration and detached retina and was deaf from WWII. While he was living with me I couldn’t tell what was sensory deprivation or cognitive degeneration. After struggling with the symptoms inherent with Alzheimer’s I sought help from the VA which finally diagnosed my father. It wasn’t Alzheimer’s that finally took his life, it was a stroke.
While it is very important to take care of ourselves, worrying about things of which we have no control over will not do us any good. It is good that you stopped drinking and now your body can heal. You are no longer doing your body any harm and ingesting toxins that destroy brain cells and organs. Hopefully you are providing your body with the proper nourishment it needs. Our brains have a remarkable capacity to regenerate given enough time. Knowledge is power and when we know better we do better. I hope that I have been able to give you the information you were seeking. I encourage you to seek medical attention. All the best with your recovery.
Jeannie Cameron, LMHC
Page last updated Jan 17, 2013