Alcohol and dementia
The way alcohol can damage the brain means heavy drinking is linked to the risk of developing dementia, as well as other types of brain damage. Find out more here.
We’re exploring ways to improve support for people struggling with their alcohol consumption through their loved ones, and we need your help.
By taking part in our survey, you can enter a prize draw where two £100 vouchers are up for grabs as a token of appreciation for your time.
Around one in fourteen people over 65 in the UK are living with dementia - a group of conditions that can affect your memory and the way you speak, think, feel and behave.1
But dementia isn’t a natural part of ageing. There are many factors which increase your risk, including lifestyle2 – like how much exercise you get, your diet or if you drink heavily, as well as things you can’t change - like your age or genes.
Dementia is the collective term for a range of symptoms and signs related to the progressive decline of brain functions including memory, thinking skills, language, mood and movement.3
There are many types of dementia - the most common are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Dementia is most common amongst people over 65, although there are some rarer types which can affect people from the age of around 40 onwards.4
One thing all types of dementia have in common is that they are ‘progressive’ diseases. This means they get worse over time, although there are treatments available that can help relieve some symptoms if started soon enough.
Every time you drink alcohol, it affects your brain. For example, it can make you feel less inhibited and less able to make clear judgments.
If you regularly drink more than the Chief Medical Officers’ UK low risk drinking guidelines and - in particular - if you binge drink repeatedly, you're risking long-term effects for your brain and mental health, and increasing your chance of developing dementia.
If you choose to drink alcohol, you should stick to the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines. Both men and women shouldn’t drink more than 14 units a week – with any drinking spread over three or more days, with several drink-free days every week, and no bingeing.
Recent research has found that the risk of dementia was increased in people who regularly consumed more than 14 units of alcohol per week.5 A pattern of heavy drinking also increases the risk of experiencing symptoms of dementia at a younger age (known as ‘young-onset dementia’).6
Repeatedly consuming a large quantity of alcohol in a short time (known as binge drinking, or heavy session drinking) has been shown to be associated with increased risk of developing dementia,7,8 as well as affecting negatively your mood, memory and mental health.9
Binge drinking means drinking heavily over a short space of time. More than 8 units of alcohol in a single session for males, or more than 6 units in a single session for females is the technical definition.10 That’s equivalent to about four pints of normal strength beer for a man or three pints for a woman.
Evidence to date suggests that modest alcohol consumption - that is, drinking less than the CMOs' low risk guidance (no more than 14 units per week, without bingeing, and having several drink-free days) - appears to carry no increased risk of dementia. However, all the other health risks associated with regularly drinking alcohol remain.
For people over 60, there is recent evidence of a slightly higher risk of dementia among people who don’t drink alcohol at all, compared to those who drink. But the study concluded that the negative impact of alcohol on overall brain and physical health means that if you don’t drink already, you shouldn't start.11
If you choose to drink alcohol, the best way to protect your brain health is to follow the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines. That means, for both men and women, to keep your risk low it’s safest to drink no more than 14 units a week - spread over three or more days with several drink-free days every week, and no bingeing.
Learn more about your drinking and get tools, tips and advice.
If you're ready to change your drinking habits, the free MyDrinkaware app can help you track your alcohol consumption, calculate units and calories and set goals to help you moderate your drinking.
Are you ready to feel the benefits of drinking less, but don't know how to get started? Our guide to drink-free days can help you on your way.
 Sabia, S., Fayosse, A., Dumurgier, J., Dugravot, A., Akbaraly, T., Britton, A., Kivimäki, M., & Singh-Manoux, A. (2018). Alcohol consumption and risk of dementia: 23 year follow-up of Whitehall II cohort study. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 362, k2927. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2927
 Schwarzinger, M. (2018). Contribution of alcohol use disorders to the burden of dementia in France 2008-13: a nationwide retrospective cohort study. Lancet 3.3; Sabia, S. et al. (2018). Alcohol consumption and risk of dementia: a 23-year follow-up of Whitehall II cohort study. BMJ 2018:362.
 Alzheimer's Disease International. World Alzheimer Report 2014, Dementia and risk reduction: An analysis of protective and modifiable risk factors (21 September 2014). Available at: https://www.alzint.org/resource/world-alzheimer-report-2014/ [Accessed 20 December 2022]
 NICE guideline NG16 (20 October 2015). Dementia, disability and frailty in later life – mid-life approaches to delay or prevent onset. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng16 [Accessed 20 December 2022]
 Borges, G., Bagge, C. L., Cherpitel, C. J., Conner, K. R., Orozco, R., and Rossow, I. (2017). A meta-analysis of acute use of alcohol and the risk of suicide attempt. Psychological medicine, 47(5), 949-957.
 Mewton, Louise et al. “The relationship between alcohol use and dementia in adults aged more than 60 years: a combined analysis of prospective, individual-participant data from 15 international studies.” Addiction (Abingdon, England) vol. 118,3 (2023): 412-424. doi:10.1111/add.16035
 Alzheimer’s society website. Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD): what is it and who gets it? [Accessed 16 November 2022]. Available at: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/types-dementia/alcohol-related-brain-damage-arbd
 Topiwala A, Allan C L, Valkanova V, Zsoldos E, Filippini N, Sexton C et al. Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study BMJ 2017; 357 :j2353 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j2353
 Sachdeva, A., Chandra, M., Choudhary, M., Dayal, P., & Anand, K. S. (2016). Alcohol-Related Dementia and Neurocognitive Impairment: A Review Study. International journal of high risk behaviors & addiction, 5(3), e27976. https://doi.org/10.5812/ijhrba.27976
Last Reviewed: 7th March 2023
Next Review due: 7th March 2026