While heavy alcohol use is linked to the development of several neurological conditions, there’s no concrete evidence that consuming alcohol increases your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Research on the relationship between alcohol consumption and Alzheimer’s disease is limited. However, some researchers have found that drinking has a strong link to neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s.

Here’s a closer look at the current state of research around the link between alcohol and Alzheimer’s.

Researchers have determined that there isn’t one single cause of Alzheimer’s. Instead, multiple individual factors can elevate your risk. These factors include your overall health, family history, and lifestyle, including habits around what you eat and drink.

The short answer is that alcohol consumption may have some connection to Alzheimer’s risk, but it’s unclear how strong that connection is.

Clinical studies on how alcohol affects Alzheimer’s have mixed results:

  • A research review published in 2016 showed that people who regularly drank small amounts of alcohol tended to have low rates of Alzheimer’s disease. But the authors noted that it was unclear if this was due to alcohol offering some kind of protective effect against the disease.
  • In a 2017 longitudinal cohort study, 550 men who didn’t have alcohol use disorder at the time the study began were monitored for signs of cognitive decline. After 30 years, participants who had more than 30 drinks per week were at a significantly higher risk of atrophy in their brain’s hippocampus, which is a potential factor in Alzheimer’s disease. Participants who drank moderately still had three times the risk of hippocampus atrophy as those who didn’t drink.
  • In a randomized analysis published in 2019, alcohol wasn’t found to offer any protective benefit against Alzheimer’s. People in the analysis who drank often seemed more likely to be diagnosed with the condition earlier in life.

While the connection between alcohol and Alzheimer’s disease is fuzzy at best, it’s clear that alcohol does impact your brain.

After only a few drinks, you might experiences issues with memory, coordination, or balance, but these effects are short-lived.

Long-term, heavy alcohol use, on the other hand, has long been associated with more significant effects on the brain, including brain shrinkage and a loss of neurons.

However, a recent study involving nearly 40,000 adults suggests that even 1 to 2 drinks a day may cause similar changes in your brain, albeit to a lesser degree than heavy drinking does.

Alzheimer’s disease has a similar effect on your brain, causing neuron death and brain shrinkage.

Here are a few more commonly asked questions about how Alzheimer’s and alcohol consumption can be connected.

How much alcohol does it take to cause dementia?

No set amount of alcohol is thought to directly cause dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, experts aren’t even sure if there’s a real connection between alcohol use and Alzheimer’s disease risk.

What is considered “heavy drinking”?

The culture you grew up in and the drinking habits of the people in your life can make it hard to know if your drinking habits are within the limits of what’s considered average.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines heavy drinking as:

  • 4 drinks in any given day or 14 drinks consumed in the span of a week for men
  • 3 drinks consumed on any given day or more than 7 drinks per week for women

For reference, a standard drink is approximately:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of spirits, such as gin or rum

Consistent alcohol use that exceeds intake guidelines may have an effect on your brain.

How do I know if I have brain damage from alcohol?

If you’re concerned you might be experiencing alcohol-related brain damage, make an appointment with a healthcare professional. Be sure to mention any symptoms you’ve noticed and provide honest answers about your alcohol consumption.

They’ll collect your full medical history and do some mental tests to determine the best course of action.

Can people with Alzheimer’s drink alcohol?

It’s not recommended for people with Alzheimer’s disease to drink alcohol. Many people with Alzheimer’s disease experience changes to their sense of balance. Intoxication can increase their risk of losing their balance and seriously injuring themselves.

It might also be difficult for someone with Alzheimer’s disease to remember how many drinks they’ve had in a sitting.

What’s more, a 2016 study suggests that heavy alcohol consumption might speed up the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Get support

If you’re concerned about your alcohol use, free, confidential help is available from:

Was this helpful?

The relationship between alcohol consumption and Alzheimer’s disease is unclear. That said, alcohol is known to have negative effects on your brain over time, even if you only drink moderately.

If you’re concerned about your Alzheimer’s risk, dementia, or possible brain damage, you may want to speak with a doctor to discuss lifestyle choices, screening tests, and other strategies.