Mid-life Problem Drinking Linked to Memory Loss

Individuals with alcohol use disorders are twice as likely as those without a history of problem drinking to suffer from memory loss in the future.

Individuals with alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are twice as likely to suffer from memory loss in the future, according to a study in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in the United Kingdom analyzed the records of 6,542 middle-aged individuals enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study. Starting in 1992, the investigators assessed participants’ cognitive states and checked on a biannual basis from 1996 to 2010.

Participants were determined to have an AUD through 3-item Cut down, Annoyed, Guilty, Eye-opener (CAGE) questionnaire, which delved into their attitudes about their drinking habits, when they drink, and how others feel about their alcohol use, according to a press release from the university.

Based on 19 years of follow-up data, the investigators discovered 90 and 74 participants developed severe cognitive and memory impairments, respectively. Overall, the researchers claimed that a history of AUDs doubled the likelihood of suffering from memory impairment (odds ratio [OR] = 2.21, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.27 to 3.85, t = 2.88, df = 52, p = .01). Although, AUDs were associated with cognitive impairment, the correlation wasn’t as strong (OR = 1.80, 95% CI = 0.97 to 3.33, t = 1.92, df = 52, p = .06).

While previous research has highlighted a link between dementia and alcohol consumption, Iain Lang, who led the study, pointed out that these prior studies usually assessed the effect of drinking habits on older subjects. Lang touted this study for calling attention to a connection with younger participants.

“This finding — that middle-aged people with a history of problem drinking more than double their chances of memory impairment when they are older — suggests 3 things: that this is a public health issue that needs to be addressed; that more research is required to investigate the potential harms associated with alcohol consumption throughout life; and that the CAGE questionnaire may offer doctors a practical way to identify those at risk of memory/cognitive impairment and who may benefit from help to tackle their relationship with alcohol, ” Lang said in a statement.