The director of a Catholic mental health project has called on parishes to ensure that people with alcohol problems are being supported.
Ben Bano, director of Welcome Me as I Am, which raises awareness of mental health and dementia issues in parishes, warned that problem drinking is often a sign of deeper issues and can eventually lead to health problems, including dementia.
“Problem drinking often masks loneliness and social isolation as well as depression,” Mr Bano told The Universe. “In our parish communities we need to be open to the needs of people who feel the need to consume an excessive amount of alcohol and provide a listening ear as well as signposting to sources of local help such as their GP.”
Mr Bano’s call comes following new research in France that suggested that heavy drinking could be a major risk factor for early-onset dementia.
Scientists who looked at 57,000 cases of dementia diagnosed before the age of 65 found that 39 per cent could be attributed to alcohol-related brain damage. Brain damage associated with drinking was thought to be responsible for three per cent of all the dementia cases investigated.
“It is well known that excessive drinking affects cognitive functioning,” said Mr Bano. Studies shows that excessive alcohol intake can also offer the potential for acquiring dementia earlier than otherwise may have been the case.
Previous research has indicated that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption might benefit the brain, but other results have highlighted the harmful effects of drinking too much.
The World Health Organisation defines chronic heavy drinking as consuming more than 60 grams of pure alcohol per day for men and 40 grams for women. That equates to around six or more standard drinks for men and four for women.
Writing in The Lancet Public Health, the study authors called for action to reduce the burden of dementia due to excessive alcohol consumption.
Lead researcher Dr Michael Schwarzinger, from the Translational Health Economics Network in France, said: ‘A variety of measures are needed, such as reducing availability, increasing taxation, and banning advertising and marketing of alcohol, alongside early detection and treatment of alcohol-use disorders.’
Excessive drinking may lead to permanent structural and functional brain damage, he said. Heavy alcohol consumption also increases the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, disordered heart rhythm and heart failure, which may in turn increase the risk of vascular dementia.
To read more stories like this, subscribe to The Universe.
Print edition: www.thecatholicuniverse.com/shop/catalog/product/view/id/30/s/universe-uk-annual-print-subscription/category/3/
Digital edition: www.thecatholicuniverse.com/shop/subscribe-digital/the-universe-europe.html
Picture: Empty bottles of alcohol. (Ian West/PA).