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

5. Who develops ARBD?

Reliable figures of the number of people with ARBD are not available and the condition is likely to be under-diagnosed. This is partly because having problems with alcohol still carries a stigma within society, so people may not seek help. Awareness of ARBD even among professionals also varies widely. Alcohol-related brain damage may therefore go undiagnosed or unrecorded in a patient's notes.

Evidence from post mortem studies in the UK shows that ARBD affects about 1 in 200 of the general adult population. Among those with alcoholic addiction, this figure rises to as high as one in three. It is not clear why some people develop ARBD while others do not.

People with ARBD tend to be middle-aged, typically in their 40s or 50s, although they can be younger or older. This is younger than the age at which people most often develop common dementias such as Alzheimer's disease. Alcohol-related brain damage is thought to cause more than 10 per cent of 'dementia' in younger people - defined as those aged under 65.

Alcohol-related brain damage is more common among people in poorer communities. It also affects men much more often than women. However, where women are affected, they tend to develop ARBD at a younger age than men and after fewer years of alcohol misuse. Women are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.