The large study, published in the journal The Lancet Public Health, used the nationwide French National Hospital Discharge database to identify all adults (at least age 20) discharged from the hospital in France between 2008 and 2013 who were also diagnosed with dementia—more than a million people. In analyzing this group, researchers not only found a link between alcohol consumption and mental decline but specifically between alcohol-related disorders (essentially, alcoholism) and early-onset dementia (dementia diagnosed before age 65). Of the patients diagnosed with dementia, results showed 16.5 percent of the men and 4 percent of the women were excessive drinkers.
Ethanol and its byproduct acetaldehyde, two properties of alcohol, can lead to long-term structural and functional brain damage, according to study co-author Michael Schwarzinger, MD.
One doctor pointed out a notable shortcoming of the study: It examined people already suffering from some sort of health issue that would land them in the hospital. “This was really a sample of hospitalized individuals,” Kostas Lyketsos, MD, a neuropsychiatry professor and director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center, explained to CNN. “It’s very unusual for people with dementia, at least in the milder stages, to be hospitalized.”
Still, excessive drinking has repeatedly been shown to be harmful to health: Michael Schwarzinger, MD, an author of the study, told CNN that ethanol and its byproduct acetaldehyde, two properties of alcohol, can lead to long-term structural and functional brain damage. So while there may not be a clear path from imbibing excessively to dementia, alcohol—despite its benefits in moderation—is certainly not the elixir of vitality.