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Dementia and Substance Abuse

by Landmark Recovery

February 7, 2021
The link between dementia and Substance Abuse

Dementia and Substance Abuse

Substance use disorders are a growing issue among the elderly population.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, over one million adults over the age of 65 have a past or present addiction.

Misuse of substances includes both alcohol and illicit drugs.

The health of the older generation is increasingly difficult to manage compounded with problems like dementia.

Experts warn that without proper training and resources for those charged with giving care, this situation will implode as the boomer generation continues to age.

What Is Dementia?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, dementia is not classified as a specific disease. Instead, its a general term describing cognitive impairment.

Dementia is typically associated with old age but can affect young people as well.

There are many different types of dementia including:

  • Lewy Body Dementia
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Vascular Dementia
  • Down Syndrome
  • Korsakoff Syndrome

Dementia is caused by damage to cells in the brain. When the cells cannot communicate with each other, a person’s feelings, thinking, and behavior can all be affected.

This brain damage can be the result of myriad diseases. Today, we will explore the role that substance abuse and addiction may play in dementia.

Signs and Symptoms of Dementia

There are many signs of the degenerative neurological disease of dementia. However, a trained medical professional is required for an accurate diagnosis. Some of the symptoms of this disease include:

  • Declining problem-solving abilities
  • Loss of short-term memory
  • Loss of coordination and physical strength
  • Loss of concentration
  • Poor focus
  • Forgetting relationships, names, and faces
  • Changes in mood and personality
  • Inability to learn new information
  • Paranoia with caretakers, friends, and family
  • Inability to complete basic self-care

Substance Abuse and Dementia

There are many reasons to believe that substance abuse can increase the risk of dementia. But, there is still much to learn on the topic.

A person’s cognitive abilities can be negatively impacted by their abuse of drugs or alcohol. But, there is not much evidence as to whether substance abuse alone can cause dementia.

There is evidence that points to these risky activities opening pathways in the brain that can result in cognitive impairment and can lead to dementia.

Dementia and Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse can be tied directly to dementia.

In the elderly population Moderate and high levels of alcohol use can increase the risk of a person developing dementia.

When alcohol is consumed in high amounts, it can cause the brain to lose out on vital nutrients. These include vitamin B, and can result in neural toxicity. This can cause alcohol-induced dementia.

Dementia and Marijuana Abuse

Marijuana can result in learning deficits, increased difficulty retaining information, and can make it difficult to retrieve memories when used long-term. The more often people use marijuana, the more prevalent a decline in cognitive abilities becomes.

Dementia and Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription medications like Xanax and Valium can be used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and other disorders when used under the supervision of a doctor.

Unfortunately, long-term use of benzodiazepines has been associated with a higher likelihood of developing dementia.

Using painkillers and other prescription opioids has also been shown to lead to a higher risk of dementia.

Addiction and Dementia 

Expert clinicians are trained to recognize addiction even when other mental health issues are present in a patient. The physician must observe certain symptoms to properly diagnose a drug or alcohol use disorder. These symptoms can include:

  • Substances are used in higher quantities for longer periods
  • Repeated attempts to stop the use of substances have failed
  • Tolerance of the substances has grown, resulting in increased use
  • Personal and professional responsibilities have been neglected because of the substance abuse
  • The time spent acquiring substances or recovering from using them is significant
  • Social activities have been abandoned for more time to use substances
  • Multiple conflicts in social and personal life have arisen from use of substances
  • Problems with physical and mental health have developed
  • While attempting to restrict use of substances, strong cravings persist
  • Using substances has led to impulsive and dangerous actions

When these symptoms of addiction are accompanied by the cognitive decline associated with dementia, you can begin to see why dual diagnosis is so dangerous.

Can Dementia Be Caused By Substance Abuse?

Concrete evidence pointing to a connection between dementia and substance abuse is yet to be found. However, we do know that abusing drugs and alcohol can increase the risk of developing this heartbreaking disease.

Marijuana, alcohol, and prescription drug abuse all increase a person’s likelihood of developing dementia. In fact, statistics have shown that nearly 40% of early-onset dementia could be directly tied to alcohol use.

Help Is Here

Addiction recovery can be difficult for anyone, but especially so for those who have dementia.

When combined with alcohol and substance abuse, dementia’s negative impact to memory, cognition, perception, and other areas can be pronounced.

If you or a loved one is facing these challenges, we are here to help.

At Landmark Recovery, we have caring and knowledgeable staff who tailor our services to meet your needs.

Call 888-448-0302 or contact us today for more information and to learn more about your treatment options.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.