ARBD – Alcohol Related Brain Damage, What We All Should Know

by Lesley

I recently attended NHS certificated training on ARBD – Alcohol Related Brain Damage – because some of my clients have been, or are affected by it and my interest lies in understanding ARBD and its symptoms. Initially I thought it would inform my workshops better – in fact, I was so shocked by the presentation, I’ll be evangelising about the dangers of alcohol, for some time!

The Scots are renowned for their drinking culture, but perhaps less well-known are the long-term effects of going out on the bevvy. We (most of us) are inclined to believe that a wee drink here or there won’t matter, but depending on how wee that is, we could still be heading for trouble. Here’s a clinical review from GP Online regarding ARBD.

So alcohol related brain damage happens only to those who’ve been drinking for a lifetime, right? Wrong.

Many people are happy to have a drink or two at night to relax, some easily reaching the bottom of the bottle before the end of the evening. We can do that on a couple of nights but when it becomes a nightly occurrence, it’s a no-no. Our tolerance levels may be high enough not to be falling down drunk – but we’ve probably done some significant damage already. This type of social drinking is actually medically classed as binge or hazardous drinking.

ARBD can strike many of us through binge drinking and poor diet and although the early signs can help address the problem, many are overlooked or are confused with different mental health issues, making crucial early diagnosis difficult and recovery sometimes irreversible.

There are six diagnoses in alcohol related brain damage, mostly caused by excessive and consistent alcohol consumption over a long period of time and the mal-absorption of vitamin B1. These are progressive and will eventually aggressively affect each and every organ of the body.

Here are some facts from research done by Ayrshire and Arran Health Board, which is now crying out to be updated as the figures are only up to 2005;

  • Alcohol is our countries most widely used drug.
  • It costs our society £3.65bn per year
  • Scotland’s consumption is rated 8th in the world
  • 1 in 13 are dependent
  • Around 44% of women and 53% of men exceed their daily limit.

These figures are certain to have dramatically increased since 2005.

ARBD doesn’t care who it affects – indiscriminately it will cross age barriers, professions and cultures.

The local area has consistently seen an increase of prevalence in both sexes but particularly in women, with the expectation that this will have again risen, since then. Discharges from hospital with an ARBD diagnosis have also been on the incline, inferring that outreach services may also be more in need.

What complicates the figures from 2005 is the fact that many cases have been missed or misdiagnosed, due to a low level of  understanding in the community and high levels of un-reporting, until the latter stages of damage occur.

Getting worried yet?

ARBI (Alcohol Related Brain Injury) is a term used to describe the physical injury to the brain sustained as a result of alcohol consumption.

ARBD refers to the changes to the structure and the functions of the brain, resulting from alcohol consumption.

ARBD has no single cause and usually results from a combination of things;

  •  Alcohols toxic effect on brain cells and central nervous system
  • Poor diet
  • B1 (Thiamine) mal-absorption
  • Alcohol causes changes to metabolism, heart function and blood flow
  • Alcohol can cause dehydration which can lead to brain-cell death
  • Consuming alcohol can cause accidents/ injuries to the brain

Now as if that’s not scary enough, ARBD is seen as a spectrum of (sometimes progressive) disorders;

  1. Peripheral Neuropathy
  2. Hepatic Encephalopathy
  3. Frontal Lobe Dysfunction
  4. Wernicke’s Encephalopathy
  5. Korsakoff’s Amnesic Syndrome
  6. Cerebellar Atrophy

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome may be added to this list in years to come as we realise the damage done to brain development in unborn babies.

Here are just some of the presentations of ARBD; slurred speech, dis-inhibition, verbal and or physical aggression, agitation, depression, emotional instability, word-finding difficulty, paranoia, inability to plan, loss of self-awareness, global confusion.

Sounds and reads terrible, doesn’t it? But there is some good news; there can be a high level of recovery, even recovering lost skills, when the correct diagnosis is made early enough, attended to with proper care, AND if there’s complete abstinence from alcohol.

So what can we do?

Although there’s still a lack of understanding, recognition and research information, there are things we can do for ourselves and to support friends and family who may be a potential candidate or verging on ARBD at the moment.

Stick to or have less than your daily alcohol limit(2-3 units for women, 3-4 units for men – but not every day!)

  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Stay hydrated
  • Don’t binge by saving up units!
  • Regularly stimulate your brain with healthy activity
  • Seek medical attention immediately if you present and/or are worried about a combination of symptoms

Make the decision to stop drinking and seek medical help – don’t go cold turkey!

Commitment to a process of recovery is vital; anchoring your decision and having a clear path ahead, will aid the process by providing new positive experiences, to overcome the negativity of the past.

Kick the Habit - a day of personal coaching filled with coping skills to help you make the decision to quit and keep you on the right track; you’ll have the opportunity to dump your Ruckskip and move on!

Transformational Training is also available to help keep you on track, once you’re in the recovery mode.

If this is something you want to do for your self , get in touch – or pass it along to someone else who might need it.


About Lesley

Lesley Rodgers has written 146 posts on this blog.

Personal Development Consultant and Confidence Coach. Lesley is also a committed Human Rights Activist with her heart firmly lodged in 'community' and collaboration.


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