Specialising in Alcohol Related Brain Damage

A number of the residents at William Simpsons have been diagnosed with Alcohol Related Brain Damage (ARBD) and it is an area of care that we specialise in.

With residents, family and friends frequently asking for more information on the condition, this blog provides an overview of ARBD, with signposts to further and more detailed information online.

What is Alcohol Related Brain Damage?

ARBD is an umbrella term that describes the damage that can occur in the brain as a result of long-term, heavy alcohol use.

A brain disorder, ARBD is caused by an individual binge drinking, or regularly drinking much more alcohol than the recommended limit, over a number of years.  There are different types of ARBD, and the condition can affect people as young as forty.

What are the Symptoms of ARBD?

Symptoms of ARBD can include:

  • Memory loss – being unable to remember how to get to familiar places, or scheduled appointments or what they’ve just done
  • Problems with familiar tasks – running into difficulties with everyday tasks such as preparing a meal or using a phone
  • Trouble processing new information – not being able to remember people recently met or the time and date of an appointment
  • Depression and bad temper – lack of motivation, interest and spontaneity
  • Poor judgement and loss of inhibition – being too trusting of strangers or responding inappropriately
  • Language difficulties – having trouble remember words of the names of family and friends
  • Erratic behaviour – rapid mood swings, aggression, violence, lack of empathy or acting out of normal character
  • Difficulty concentrating – remaining focused can be a challenge, making everyday tasks troublesome
  • Poor decision-making – assessing options and making decisions can be challenging

ARBD can also present physical problems, such as pins and needles, numbness or burning sensation in the limbs, disturbed sleep, muscle weakness or changes to walking gait.

How is ARBD Diagnosed?

It can be hard to get a definitive diagnosis of ARBD, particularly if you are not the individual concerned, as people with the condition can often be socially isolated and/or reluctant to engage with health or care services.

There are different types of ARBD and the disorder has similar symptoms to other mental health conditions such as Alzheimer’s, creating another barrier to clear diagnosis.  It can also be difficult to distinguish between long-term alcohol use effects, and short-term effects associated with intoxication or withdrawal.

However, the symptoms of memory loss, reasoning challenges and difficulty with impulse control, coupled with a history of drinking far more than the recommended limit for alcohol over a period of at least five years can result in recommended testing on cognitive functioning and an official diagnosis of ARBD.

Can you recover from ARBD?

ARBD is unlike other types of dementia and is not degenerative – it does not get worse over time, as long as the excessive consumption of alcohol stops.

With treatment, the condition’s progress can be halted or even reversed – with some people making a complete recovery and most people recovering in some way.

Where can I find out more about ARBD?

There are lots of helpful online resources with detailed information about ARBD. Some of the information we looked at to collate this blog are: 

Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland

NHS Borders

Alzheimer’s Society

Alcohol Change UK – ARBD diagnosis and treatment

Alcohol Change UK – ARBD signs and symptoms