Binge drinkers may be as more than 3 times more likely to develop dementia according to a Finnish study published in the journal Epidemiology in 2005.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Department of Neurology at the University of Turku in Finland, involved a group of 554 twins who completeld questionnaires on their drinking habits in 1975 and again in 1981. During the course of the 25 year study, 103 of the participants developed some form of dementia.
The researchers found that participants who reported a binge drinking episode at least once a month were 3.2 times more likely to develop dementia. Furthermore, participants who had passed out at least twice in the previous year due to alcohol consumption were a massive 10.5 times more likely to develop dementia.
Binge drinking was defined as consuming at least 5 bottles of beer or one bottle of wine during a drinking session.
Light to moderate alcohol consumption is thought to have a negligible impact on cognitive function and some studies have actually found a reduction in the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in moderate drinkers. On the other hand heavy alcohol consumption, particularly “episodic” consumption where a large quantity of alcohol is consumed in a short period of time, has many long term adverse effects on the brain.
Heavy alcohol consumption in adolescence has been linked to a reduction in the size of the hippocampus which controls aspects of memory and learning. Alcohol also reduces the bodies ability to absorb the B vitamin thiamine. A lack of thiamine leads to the degeneration of brain cells and can result in a form of dementia known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Almost three quarters of alcoholics are thought to be deficient in thiamine.
The average binge drinker in America binge drinks 4 times a month and consumes 8 drinks per session. Recent CDC figures put the prevalence of binge drinking in the USA at 17.1%. Binge drinking is around twice as common in men than women (23.2% vs 11.4%). Binge drinking is also much more common in people under the age of 35. Interestingly, wealthy individuals and those with a high level of education have a higher prevalence of binge drinking than the rest of the population.
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