Increased risk of dementia in older female US veterans with alcohol use disorder

Addiction. 2021 Aug;116(8):2049-2055. doi: 10.1111/add.15416. Epub 2021 Feb 3.


Aim: To determine whether alcohol use disorder (AUD) is associated with increased dementia risk among older women veterans.

Design: Cohort study.

Setting: United States.

Participants: Women veterans with AUD aged ≥ 55 years (n = 2207), receiving care from Veterans Health Administration medical centers from October 2004 to September 2015 with one or more follow-up visit and an age-matched sample of women veterans without AUD (n = 2207). Women at baseline with prevalent dementia or AUD in remission were excluded.

Measurements: AUD, substance use disorder (SUD), smoking, psychiatric (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety) and medical comorbidities (diabetes, hypertension, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, traumatic brain disorder) and dementia determined by the International Classification of Diseases, 9th revision, Clinical Modification codes. Cox proportional hazards models were used to determine the association between AUD and dementia risk during follow-up. Sensitivity analyses were performed by excluding women (n = 349) with comorbid SUD and by excluding women (n = 1568) currently smoking.

Findings: Veteran women had a mean [standard deviation (SD)] age of 65.0 (5.6) years at baseline. During follow-up (median 4 years, interquartile range: 2-6) 3.7% of women (n = 82) with AUD developed dementia compared with 1.1% (n = 24) without AUD (P < 0.001). After adjustment for demographics, medical and psychiatric conditions and accounting for different Veteran's Integrated Service Networks, the adjusted hazard ratio (aHR) for dementia was 3.12 (95% CI = 1.90-5.12) for women with AUD compared with women without AUD. After removing women with SUD (aHR = 3.53, 95% CI = 2.13-5.85) and women currently smoking (aHR = 3.80, 95% CI = 2.11-6.84), results were similar.

Conclusions: Alcohol use disorder among female US veterans aged more than 55 years appears to be associated with a more than threefold increase of dementia.

Keywords: Alcohol use; Veteran's Health Administration; alcohol use disorder; cohort; dementia; heavy drinking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alcoholism*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dementia* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Veterans*