What causes Cognitive Impairment in Alcoholism?
When asking the question – “What causes cognitive impairment in alcoholism?” the first thing that comes to mind is the intoxicating effects of alcohol on the mind and body. However, intoxication is only one of the reasons that cognitive impairments in alcoholism might occur.
Apart from the direct effects of alcohol on the brain, there are other reasons why cognitive deficits in alcoholism might exist including:
Indirect effect of alcohol abuse – Impaired cognitive functioning in alcoholism may be the indirect result of alcoholism, rather than a direct consequence of alcoholism. Impairment may result from the adverse effects of alcohol on the brain, body and behavior of the individual suffering from alcoholism. For instance, brain trauma caused by alcoholism could result in impaired cognitive functioning; or cognitive impairments might be associated with liver disease caused by alcoholism, rather than alcoholism itself. Poor food intake and nutritional deficits because of an individual’s drinking habits may also result in cognitive deficits.
High risk population – An individual’s genetic make up may also contribute to the presence of certain deficits in alcoholism. Individuals considered to be at risk for alcoholism – e.g. children of alcoholics – have been found to be less capable on tests of learning and visual-spatial integration, as compared to individuals who do not belong to the high risk group.
Premature aging – Some researchers suggest that cognitive impairment in alcoholism could be because of premature aging, caused by alcoholism. However, while cognitive deficits in some alcoholics have been found to resemble those seen in the normal aging process, it is less likely that these deficits are related to those associated with normal aging.
Cognitive deficits present from before – The presence of cognitive impairments in alcoholism does not necessarily have to be related to alcoholism in any way – direct or indirect, or even genetic. They could be present from even before the individual started drinking and may be completely unrelated to alcohol use and abuse.
Whatever the cause of cognitive impairment, the important fact is that it does exist in a significant number of individuals who engage in heavy drinking or suffer from alcoholism and so should be addressed when treating alcoholism.