Alcohol Amnestic Disorder - Sovereign Health Group
Articles / Blog
07-29-10 Category: Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol Amnestic Disorder

Primarily a memory disorder, as the name suggests, Alcohol Amnestic Disorder is typically a consequence of chronic alcohol dependence. As with all amnestic disorders, it is characterized by memory loss, more specifically:

  • Inability to create new memories after the onset of the disease (Anterograde Amnesia)
  • Some difficulty recalling past events, especially just before onset of the disorder (Retrograde Amnesia)
  • Inability to learn new information or tasks
  • Confusion/disorientation, inattention and confabulation.

Alcohol Amnestic Disorder is caused by malnutrition, especially Thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency due to excessive drinking. It is also referred to as Korsakoff psychosis or Wernicke’s disease which are actually two phases – chronic and acute – respectively of the same disease. Generally, Wernicke’s encephalopathy resulting from severe deficiency of thiamine (vitaminB1) is the initial stage. This is followed by Korsakoff’s psychosis due to continued excessive drinking.

Up to 80% of individuals suffering from alcoholism develop thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency, many of whom develop Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This disorder can lead to dementia and is sometimes found to coexist with Alcohol Dementia.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of Korsakoff/Wernicke’s disease include:

  • Confusion
  • Muscle/Motor problems (weakness in limbs, lack of muscle coordination, unsteady gait, slow walk)
  • Eye/Vision Abnormalities (Abnormal pupil movements, sluggish pupils, paralysis of eye muscles, unequal pupil sizes)

This symptom triad is referred to as Wernicke’s disease or Wernicke’s encephalopathy.

Korsakoff syndrome or psychosis is characterized by development and/or presence of:

  • impaired ability to establish new memories as well as retrieve old memories (Anterograde and Retrograde Amnesia)
  • impaired ability to learn new information or tasks which almost always accompanies the amnestic disorders
  • Inattention, disorientation and confabulation.

Confabulation, a common occurrence in amnestic disorders, is also seen in this disorder. Individuals suffering from Korsakoff/Wernicke’s disease try to fill the gaps in their memory by confabulation – i.e. making up or inventing stories rather than reporting facts because they do not remember the facts.

Sometimes psychotic symptoms, such as delusions and hallucination, might also develop. This is why the term Korsakoff Psychosis is used.

Other signs and symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome may include: decreased or abnormal reflexes, impaired fine motor function (hand or finger movements), abnormal sensations in hands and feet, low blood pressure and body temperature, increased heart rate, speech impairments and changes in mood and behavior.

Individuals suffering form this disorder look undernourished and may appear apathetic, inattentive, or even agitated in some cases.

Confusion is the most common early manifestation of this disorder – characterized by apathy, inattentiveness, and indifference to surroundings. Spontaneous speech is found to be minimal and, when prompted to speak, a general disorientation (time, place and purpose) is found. Late-stage Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome may result in coma or even death. Thus early detection and prompt treatment of this disorder is essential.

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