Alcohol-related brain damage (including Korsakoff's syndrome)

4. Causes

ARBD is defined as long-term decline in memory or thinking caused by excessive alcohol use and a lack of vitamin B1 (thiamine). Thiamine is needed to provide energy to the body. It is especially important for brain and nerve cells because they use so much energy.

Alcohol misuse causes ARBD in a range of ways. Regular heavy drinking over time damages nerve cells because alcohol is a toxin. It also causes chemical changes in the brain and the shrinkage of brain tissue.

The second way that alcohol misuse leads to ARBD is by causing thiamine deficiency. This is partly because heavy drinkers tend to not look after themselves and have poor diet. Alcohol also irritates the stomach lining, leading to vomiting and poor absorption of nutrients. Thiamine deficiency also happens because alcohol interferes with the way the body stores and handles the vitamin.

Alcohol can also cause ARBD through repeated head injuries. People who misuse alcohol are more prone to falls and getting into fights.

Finally, heavy drinking damages blood vessels and is linked to high blood pressure, raised cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. All of these conditions can damage the brain.

It is important to note that not all of these factors are equally important in all forms of ARBD or in everyone with the condition.