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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Heavy Drinking in Middle Age & Memory Loss in Men

Study found those consuming at least 2.5 drinks daily showed mental decline earlier than lighter drinkers

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Maureen Salamon

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 15, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Middle-aged men who drink heavily show declines in memory, attention and reasoning skills up to six years sooner than those drinking less alcohol, new research suggests.

European scientists found that men drinking 2.5 or more alcoholic beverages daily at midlife were more likely to experience more rapid mental losses over the next decade than light or moderate drinkers.

Heavy drinking's effects on women could not be accurately assessed because far fewer middle-aged females participated in the research, the study authors said.

"Heavy alcohol consumption is known to be detrimental for health, so the results were not surprising . . . they just add that [it's] also detrimental for the brain and the effects can be observed as [early] as 55 years old," said study author Severine Sabia. "There is no need to be an alcoholic to see a detrimental effect of heavy alcohol consumption on cognition [thinking skills]."

Sabia is a research associate in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London. The study was published online Jan. 15 in the journal Neurology.

Scant research has examined the impact of alcohol consumption on brain aging before old age, according to study documents. The new study, however, included data from more than 5,000 men and 2,000 women at midlife.

Participants' alcohol consumption was assessed three times in the 10 years before the first of three tests of memory and executive function, which deals with attention and reasoning skills needed in achieving goals. The first test was taken when participants were an average age of 56.

No differences were found in memory and executive function decline between men who didn't drink alcohol and those who were light or moderate drinkers, consuming up to two servings of beer, wine or liquor each day. Heavy drinkers exhibited mental declines between 1.5 and 6 years faster than those drinking less.

Although the study found an association between heavy drinking in men and earlier decline in mental function, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

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