Drink Heavily and You Risk Brain Damage - - New Report

Article excerpt

Byline: Julia McWatt Health correspondent julia.mcwatt@walesonline.co.uk

Anew report outlining the "serious public health challenge" of alcohol-related brain damage has been labelled as a "wake-up call" by campaigners.

Alcohol Concern Cymru's "All in the Mind" paper, published today, says alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) is poorly understood by the public and many healthcare professionals which is leading to under-diagnosis and lack of treatment.

It says there is still "ignorance" and "stereotypes" around the subject, with many seeing its associated conditions, such as Wernicke-Korsakoff's Syndrome which leads to confusion, memory loss, and difficulty reasoning and understanding, being confined to particular groups of society.

The charity says that the ARBD can be treated effectively, but warns that many health professionals do not know what to look for.

The report said: "The long-term effects of alcohol on the brain can be both psychological (mental health problems) and physiological (damage to brain tissue). People who drink heavily are particularly vulnerable to developing mental health problems, and alcohol has a role in a number of conditions, including anxiety and depression, psychotic disorders and suicide.

"Over along period of time, however, heavy drinkers may also develop various types of physical brain damage. These are due in part to the toxic effects of alcohol itself, but long-term alcohol misuse can also lead to vitamin defi-ciencies that exacerbate the damage.

"Although less common than some other alcohol-related conditions, ARBD nevertheless represents a serious public health challenge and remains very much overlooked and misunderstood.

"This paper seeks to clear up much of the ignorance around ARBD and to place it firmly in the context of our drinking society, rather than stereotyping it as an extreme affliction of a distinct group of easily identifiable 'problem drinkers'.

"It also makes the case that, unlike some other forms of mental impairment, ARBD is not a progressive condition - it does not inevitably worsen, and can be successfully treated. It makes the case for ensuring that appropriate treatment is provided promptly to all who can benefit from it."

Alcohol Concern Cymru director, Andrew Misell, said he hoped the report would be seen as a "wake-up call".

He said: "Most of us know that alcohol can damage our liver, but the fact that it could undermine our long-term brain function is much less well known. …