Uk heading towards a 'silent epidemic' of alcohol-related dementia - royal college of psychiatrists

Uk heading towards a 'silent epidemic' of alcohol-related dementia - royal college of psychiatrists

Urgent action is needed to prevent a 'silent epidemic' of alcohol-related dementia in the UK, psychiatrists have warned.

Writing in the November issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, two London-based psychiatrists with a special interest in dementia discuss the potential impact of increasing alcohol consumption among young and middle-aged people.

Dr Susham Gupta, a specialist registrar in adult and old age psychiatry, and Dr James Warner, a consultant in older adults' psychiatry, observe that attitudes towards alcohol have changed significantly over the last few decades. Not only has society taken a more relaxed attitude to drinking, but alcohol has become cheaper and more widely available.

The price of alcohol relative to average UK income has halved since the 1960s, while per capita consumption of alcohol has nearly doubled from less than six litres a year in the early 1960s to over 11.5 litres per year in 2000. If this trend continues, the UK will become Europe's biggest per capita consumer of alcohol within a decade.

Previous research has shown that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to loss of brain tissue, and that binge drinking is associated with an increased risk of dementia.

Given the neurotoxic effects of alcohol - and the seemingly inexorable rise in heavy drinking - the authors of the paper conclude that we are likely to see a surge in cases of alcohol-related dementia in future generations.

This problem may be compounded by the fact that more people are using recreational drugs such as ecstasy, whose long-term effects on the brain are still unclear.

Dr Gupta and Dr Warner describe alcohol-related dementia as an "under-recognised problem", and call for the development of new tools to help doctors assess the risks of alcohol-related cognitive impairment.

Better public education about heavy drinking and the risk of developing dementia is also needed, although Dr Gupta and Dr Warner acknowledge that awareness campaigns may be both "unpopular and ineffective". "This might need similar legislation to that used in the fight against tobacco-related health problems," they conclude.


"Alcohol-related dementia: a 21st-century silent epidemic?"

Gupta S and Warner J

British Journal of Psychiatry, 193: 351-353

The Royal College of Psychiatrists

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is the professional and educational body for psychiatrists in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. We promote mental health by:

-- Setting standards and promoting excellence in mental health care

-- Improving understanding through research and education

-- Leading, representing, training and supporting psychiatrists

-- Working with patients, carers and their organisations

As well as running its membership examination (MRCPsych), and visiting and approving hospitals for training purposes, the College organises scientific and clinical conferences and lectures and continuing professional development activities. The College publishes books, reports and educational material for professionals and the general public. It also publishes the British Journal of Psychiatry, Psychiatric Bulletin, Advances in Psychiatric Treatment and International Psychiatry, all of which are now available on-line.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has been in existence in some form since 1841. First as the "Association of Medical Officers of Asylums and Hospitals for the Insane" (later changed to the Medico Psychological Association) then, in 1926 receiving its Royal Charter to become the "Royal Medico Psychological Association, and finally, in 1971 receiving a Supplemental Charter to become the "Royal College of Psychiatrists" we know today.

Royal College of Psychiatrists

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Section Issues On Medicine: Psychiatry