Moderate alcohol consumption reduces the risk of dementia

Moderate alcohol consumption reduces the risk of dementia

Last Reviewed : 12/25/2020
Moderate alcohol consumption reduces the risk of dementia

Moderate alcohol consumption is typically defined as no more than one drink a day for women and 1-2 drinks for men, and no more than 7 to 14 drinks per week. In a similar vein, a drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine, a 12-ounce beer or 1.5 ounces of vodka or other spirits. Alcohol consumption causes cognitive impairment. It also affects short term memory and causes blackouts. It can also hamper the other cognitive areas of brain that are associated with long-term memory which finally leads to dementia.

Relevant Studies

But in the recent years, research has come up with the concept that moderate drinking protects against dementia and Alzheimer’s. A report from Australia found that people over 60 who drank moderately had a 30 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer’s as they age. Another large study of nurses found that those who consumed a drink a day or less, on average, tended to perform better on memory tests than those who abstained from alcohol entirely or drank more heavily1.

Another prospective cohort study was done to examine the association between alcohol consumption and risk of dementia in civil service departments in London (Whitehall II Study) among 9,087 participants aged 35-55 years at study inception (1985/88). Main outcome measures were incidence of dementia, identified through linkage to hospital, mental health services, and mortality registers until 2017. They measured the following:

  1. The mean from three assessments between 1985/88 and 1991/93 (midlife), categorized as abstinence, 1-14 units/week, and >14 units/week;
  2. 17-year trajectories of alcohol consumption based on five assessments of alcohol consumption between 1985/88 and 2002/04;
  3. CAGE questionnaire for alcohol dependence assessed in 1991/93; and
  4. Hospital admission for alcohol-related chronic diseases between 1991 and 2017.

As a result,

  1. 397 cases of dementia were recorded over a mean follow-up of 23 years.
  2. Abstinence in midlife was associated with a higher risk of dementia compared with consumption of 1-14 units/week. Among those drinking >14 units/week, a 7 unit increase in alcohol consumption was associated with a 17% increase in risk of dementia.
  3. CAGE score >2 and alcohol-related hospital admission were also associated with an increased risk of dementia.
  4. Alcohol consumption trajectories from midlife to early old age showed long-term abstinence, decrease in consumption and long-term consumption > 14 units/week) to be associated with a higher risk of dementia compared with long-term consumption of 1-14 units/week.


Analysis using multistate models suggested that the excess risk of dementia associated with abstinence in midlife was partly explained by cardio metabolic disease over the follow-up as the hazard ratio of dementia in abstainers without cardio metabolic disease was 1.33 (0.88 to 2.02) compared with 1.47 (1.15 to 1.89) in the entire population.

They concluded that the risk of dementia was increased in people who abstained from alcohol in midlife or consumed > 14 units/week. In several countries, guidelines define thresholds for harmful alcohol consumption much higher than 14 units/week. The present findings encourage the downward revision of such guidelines to promote cognitive health at older ages.


  1. Neafsey, E.J. Neuropsychiatric Diseases and Treatment, 2011; Volume 17: pages 465-484. Loyola University Press Office.
  2. Sabia Séverine, Fayosse Aurore, Dumurgier Julien, Dugravot Aline, Akbaraly Tasnime, Britton Annie et al. Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Dementia: 23 year follow-up of Whitehall II cohort study BMJ 2018; 362 :k2927

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