Studies link alcohol to early death, memory loss
January 15th, 2014
05:43 PM ET

Studies link alcohol to early death, memory loss

Nearly 80,000 people die as a result of drinking alcohol each year in North and Latin America, according to a new study published Tuesday in the Journal Addiction.

Researchers looked at alcohol as the cause of death by examining death certificates, over a two-year period in 16 North and Latin American countries. Men accounted for 84% of alcohol-related deaths.

Maristela Monteiro, study author and a senior advisor on alcohol and substance abuse at the Pan American Health Organization, says people are drinking too much and "it's killing people before they should be dying."

"These deaths are all 100 percent preventable," she says. 

But how much is too much? According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heavy drinking is defined as consuming more than one drink per day for women and two drinks for men. One drink is considered 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol - equivalent to a 12-ounce beer, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, or a 5-ounce glass of wine.

Researchers found liver disease was the most common cause of death, but a wide range of diseases including heart disease, stroke, epilepsy, falls, suicides, transport-related injuries, and interpersonal violence were also revealed.

The highest death rates were in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, which are also three of the four countries with the highest level of alcohol consumption, according to the report.

"In countries that have less resources, less health care, less services, in addition you have more risk of dying from an alcohol-related problem," says Monteiro.

Monteiro says only about 30% of doctors in the United States ask patients about their drinking and have a conversation about it.  She suggests people who think they may have a problem do a screening intervention at home.

Another study, published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, looked at alcohol as it related to memory loss and found throwing back two and a half drinks per day speeds up memory loss in middle-aged men.

Researchers followed 5,000 men and 2,000 women for 10 years and found those who had 2.5 drinks of wine, beer or hard liquor daily accelerated memory loss by up to 6 years. This was not seen in those who do not drink or who drink moderately.

"The present study confirms that moderate alcohol consumption is probably not deleterious for the brain. However, heavy alcohol consumption, even in midlife, might have consequences on cognitive functioning at older ages," says study author Severine Sabia in an email. She is a research associate from the Whitehall II study at University College London.

The study found alcohol consumption higher than 36 grams per day (which is equivalent to 2.5 12 oz. beers ,for example)  in men was associated with accelerated decline in all cognitive functions, but in women there was only weak evidence that heavy drinking was associated with a faster decline. The study did not include a high number of female drinkers so researchers weren't able to find a statistical relevance in how much women drink in relation to cognitive decline. But Sabia says they did find for women "abstinence from alcohol was associated with faster decline in the global cognitive score and executive function."

"What this shows in men, heavy drinking is not good, the role of moderate drinking in cognitive health remains an open-ended question," says Emory neurologist Dr. William Hu. "Most people want to hear drinking a glass of wine a day is good for your brain. This study is inconclusive on that," he adds.

When asked about how alcohol effects brain function, Sabia says "heavy alcohol consumption is associated with higher risk of vascular disease which, in turn, may increase the risk of cognitive impairment. Furthermore, heavy alcohol consumption has detrimental short and long-term effects on the brain, including direct neurotoxic effect, pro-inflammatory effects, and indirect impact via cerebrovascular disease and vitamin deficiency."

soundoff (131 Responses)
  1. kanneroo

    BAN IT! BAN IT ALL! It's for our own health-good. Next there should be a study showing that alcohol drinkers are more likely to have kids who drink... then it can be about SAVING THE CHILDREN! For our good and the good of the kids, the potential risk is just TOO great, and no matter how little you drink, it isn't zero, so you're at terrible risk. It's just those sick, twisted monsters, Big Alcohol, trying to keep you addicted so you buy more of their product, no matter how many people they KILL. We should SUE THEM BLIND for all the death they cause, and then, I don't know, give all that $$ to the local governments. STOP BIG ALCOHOL!! (Or was that smoking? The Beef Industry? It was something fun, that's all I remember.)

    This rant is brought to you by the Stop The Nanny State from Taking Away Your Grown Adult Freedom to Eat, Drink, and Smoke What You Want Council.

    January 16, 2014 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Baralast

      I think that we need to stop people from [BLANK]. America needs to band together and make sure [BLANK]ing, [BLANK]ing and most definitely [BLANKING] are strictly prohibited! I can't be the only one that things we as adults are incapable of making decisions about our own lives. Please control me! I need structure! Possibly a man following me around telling me what's ok to do. How can i possibly make decisions for myself? If this country is ever going to survive we need the governments intervention on LITERALLY everything we do. In fact kill all the humans and program robot replacements.

      All live the robot overlord.

      January 16, 2014 at 12:31 | Report abuse |
    • Oscar Pitchfork

      Jeez, just STFU, will ya?

      January 16, 2014 at 13:35 | Report abuse |
    • sam stone

      Put pot on the same legal status as alcohol, and the alcohol problem largely goes away. In my opinion, of course

      January 17, 2014 at 07:00 | Report abuse |
    • Nobody you know

      The hysteria here is just amusing. Who said anyone was going to tell you what to do, you morons? It's a STUDY! If you don't like the results of studies, then why come here and read about them?

      What a bunch of yutzes.

      January 17, 2014 at 07:18 | Report abuse |
    • KieranH

      Wow, let's also ban cigarettes, fast food, butter, and chocolate. You should be pickled in alcohol...

      January 17, 2014 at 07:48 | Report abuse |
    • gucci win

      Legalizing pot will not reduce the alcohol factor. People who are addicted to alcohol will still be addicted to alcohol whether you legalize pot or not.

      October 9, 2014 at 13:29 | Report abuse |
  2. eagle86

    This just in, study links beer drinking to beer bellies

    January 16, 2014 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Bob

    Someone actually spent money on this study? Hmmm, let's see. Hypothetical syllogism: Brain cells store our memories. Alcohol kills brain cells. Therefore, alcohol causes memory loss.

    January 16, 2014 at 14:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Mom

    Never had alcohol. I'm 33. Just not worth the risks. I eat a lot of red grapes so if there is a benefit there, that's good enough.
    Making so many healthy choices, I could never see why I'd want to drink alcohol. Plus, it smells awful on people!

    January 16, 2014 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LCC

      If you eat a lot of grapes, you eat a lot of sugar in the form of fructose. You should learn what that fructose is doing to your liver if you're worried about not damaging it through alcohol consumption.

      January 17, 2014 at 14:25 | Report abuse |
    • Nobody you know

      LCC, have any studies been conducted on humans regarding fructose and liver damage? There have been studies using primates, but that doesn't provide conclusive evidence that eating grapes will cause liver damage in a human.

      January 17, 2014 at 15:49 | Report abuse |
  5. Fish

    I wonder if Alcohol is any worse than indictments, they both seem to cause memory loss!!! Just ask any politician!!!

    January 16, 2014 at 17:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. EdL

    'Men accounted for 84% of alcohol-related deaths'. What does this mean, that 16% were women?

    January 16, 2014 at 18:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Greg

    I got up to get a beer. What was this article about?

    January 16, 2014 at 20:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Douglas

    Yeah this coming from the same people, who, a year ago put out that moderate to heavy drinking people had higher life expectancy or longevity. Please it depends on the person.

    January 16, 2014 at 22:21 | Report abuse | Reply
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  10. David

    Did you hear about all those people who died form a lightning strike last week? Lightning needs to be illegal.

    January 17, 2014 at 10:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nobody you know

      Where in the article does anyone suggest making alcohol illegal?

      January 17, 2014 at 15:34 | Report abuse |
  11. Cindy Seattle

    What about the French? Or Italians?

    January 17, 2014 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Serge Storms

    And I thought all those 12 ounce curls were good exercise.

    February 3, 2014 at 20:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Roland

    There is a reason sugar occurs naturally in sugar cane.Try eating sugar cane, it is locked up in strong fibers for a reason.We consume way too much sugar and the reason the FDA does nothing is that it is vital for the food industry.You cannot keep food as long without sugar it tastes like cardboard.Sugar replaced fat in the 70's.

    February 4, 2014 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
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    uh seriously? I also just heard ground-breaking new that "breathing air may extend your life". Geez!

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