Swanswell encourages ‘silent epidemic’ conversation during Alcohol Awareness Week

21 November 2012

Swanswell’s calling for a wider conversation about a ‘silent epidemic’ caused by prolonged alcohol misuse that could affect up to 80,000 people across the UK.

The national charity, which wants to achieve a society free from problem alcohol and drug use, is supporting Alcohol Awareness Week (19 to 25 November) by raising awareness of the stigmas, hidden harms and social problems associated with alcohol misuse.

It’s part of a national campaign by Alcohol Concern to change the conversation people are having about alcohol and is an opportunity to highlight topics that are rarely discussed – but should be.

Alcohol-Related Dementia (ARD) is one of those hidden harms – it has a range of symptoms similar to other forms of dementia including memory loss, balance problems and irrational behaviour, making diagnosis difficult.

The condition is brought on by prolonged, significant alcohol consumption and has appeared in people as young as 27.

There are about 800,000 people with dementia in the UK (Alzheimer's Society) - studies suggest that around 12.5 per cent of dementias in the under 65s are alcohol-related1 and alcohol-related dementia accounts for ten per cent of all dementia cases2.

Yet, research suggests that if caught early enough, and with the right treatment, the effects of ARD could be reversed. In fact, a quarter of people with Alcohol-Related Dementia  recover completely and another quarter recover enough to lead independent lives3.

Last month (October), Swanswell held fringe events at the Conservative and Labour Party Conferences to raise awareness of ARD and a new model of treatment being developed by the national charity.

Swanswell has started a clinical trial of this treatment in South Yorkshire involving people affected by ARD, and their carers.

Chris Robinson, Swanswell’s Director of Services, said: ‘Some academic studies suggest that around an eighth of dementias in the under 65s are caused by alcohol but only a small minority of those affected by ARD are classed as heavy ‘street drinkers’.

Despite this, very few people have heard about ARD or are aware of the effect it can have on individuals and their families. Studies suggest that if it’s caught early enough and with the right treatment, its effects can be reversed.

So Swanswell wants to start the conversation about this condition as soon as possible because there could be tens of thousands of people missing out on potential treatment that could turn their lives, and the lives of their families, around for the better.

If you’re concerned about your own health or someone else’s, talk to a GP or an organisation such as Swanswell who could help identify whether it is Alcohol-Related Dementia. Getting help is nothing to be ashamed about and could improve lives.’

After conducting research into the condition4, Swanswell’s developed a model of treatment for Alcohol-Related Dementia and has gained ethical approval to roll out pilot studies in South Yorkshire, which has just started.


1. Harvey RJ, Rossor MN, Skelton-Robinson M & Garralda E (1998) Young Onset
    Dementia: Epidemiology, clinical symptoms, family burden, support and
. London: Imperial College Dementia Research Group

2. Lishman WA (1990) Alcohol and the brain. British Journal of Psychiatry 156    
635–644 and Harvey RJ, Rossor MN, Skelton-Robinson M & Garralda E (1998)

    Young Onset Dementia: Epidemiology, clinical symptoms, family burden, support
    and outcome
. London: Imperial College Dementia Research Group.

3. Smith I & Hillman A (1999) Management of alcohol Korsakoff syndrome.
     Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 5 271–278.

4. Swanswell (2010). The development of a multi-disciplinary programme for the   
     treatment of alcohol related brain injury
. Advances in Dual Diagnosis, Volume 3

     Issue 2, May 2010: Peer Professional Ltd







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