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Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
May 24, 2024 ·  5 min read

Neuroscientists Warn of “Cascading” Alzheimer’s Risk From These Two Habits

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is a problem seemingly on the rise in North America. Learning more about how we can prevent its onset are crucial, as there is still no cure. Recent warnings from neuroscientists highlight a concerning revelation – two common habits may significantly increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and related dementias. The two habits are unfortunately well-steeped in today’s society: Stress and alcohol. This is what the neuroscientists found.

The Impact of Alzheimer’s

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Alzheimer’s disease, affecting approximately 5.8 million Americans, is a progressive condition associated with memory loss and cognitive decline. The abnormal buildup of proteins in and around brain cells is believed to be a contributing factor to the onset of Alzheimer’s, though the exact triggers remain unclear. Among the myriad genetic and environmental factors influencing Alzheimer’s risk, alcohol consumption and chronic stress have emerged as key factors of concern. (1)

Read More: Vitamin D May Lower Your Risk of Alzheimer’s According to New Study

The Study

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Neuroscientists have conducted extensive research into the synergistic relationship between alcohol consumption and stress on the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline. A meta-analysis published in the journal Neurobiology of Stress sheds light on the profound impact of simultaneous exposure to high levels of stress and alcohol. The combination of these two factors can significantly elevate the risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive deterioration, with individuals who consume alcohol to cope with stress facing heightened health risks. (2)

“Alcohol consumption and stress are going to have a synergistic effect on Alzheimer’s Disease risk and general cognitive decline,” explained Nikki Crowley, director of the Penn State Neuroscience Institute at University Park and an assistant professor of biology. “This means that when an individual is exposed to both a high amount of stress and drinks alcohol, the combination of the two has a greater impact on that person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline. And it’s really going to depend on how much, and how long, an individual experiences stress and alcohol, either together or separately, as well. For instance, some people consume alcohol to cope with stress, and this can have further cascading negative health effects.” (3)

Alcohol + Stress = Increased Risk of Alzheimer’s

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The interaction of alcohol consumption and chronic stress can have lasting effects on brain function. Moderate alcohol consumption, particularly in midlife, has been linked to persistent changes in brain activity that can disrupt learning and memory processes. One significant consequence of alcohol intake is alterations in glutamate signaling, crucial for cognitive function. These changes in the brain may mirror those observed during cognitive decline, emphasizing the detrimental impact of alcohol and stress on brain health.

The Implications

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Neuroscientists like Crowley underscore the urgency of addressing the link between alcohol, stress, and other risk factors that influence brain function and inflammation, commonly known as ‘inflammaging.’ Understanding how these factors affect key brain regions associated with cognition and memory is critical to developing effective preventive strategies against Alzheimer’s and related dementias. She also states the importance of recognizing that there is no level of alcohol consumption that doesn’t come with some risks.

“While there’s a lot to be done, I think the field is likely going to converge on both alcohol, stress, and other risk factors influencing brain glutamate signaling and inflammation—something researchers have colloquially named ‘inflammaging’—in key brain regions related to cognition and memory,” Crowley said.

Read More: Light and Sound Therapy Shows Potential for Treating Alzheimer’s Disease

Recommendations for Lowering Stress

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To mitigate the risk of Alzheimer’s, proactive measures need to be taken to reduce stress levels. Recommendations from experts include managing chronic health conditions, maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, prioritizing sleep, and limiting alcohol and tobacco consumption. Additionally, fostering social connections and participating in mentally stimulating activities can help alleviate stress and promote overall brain health. (4)

While our daily lives may certainly be quite stressful, there are certainly things we can do to help manage that stress. These include: 

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Reducing stress through relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga
  • Engaging in social activities with friends and family members
  • Quitting smoking
  • Spending time in nature
  • Taking time for ourselves to rejuvenate
  • Setting boundaries as to what we say yes to, as well as what kind of treatment we accept from others
  • Going to therapy

Recommendations for Decreasing Alcohol Consumption

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Given the potential negative impact of alcohol consumption on Alzheimer’s risk, individuals are advised to adhere to guidelines outlined by health organizations. The National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommend limiting alcohol intake to less than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, although any level of alcohol consumption carries inherent risks. There are newer recommendations, as well, that suggest the same number of glasses but per week instead of per day. For individuals with a family history of alcohol use disorders or Alzheimer’s disease, a zero-alcohol lifestyle may be a prudent choice to safeguard brain health. Tips to help reduce alcohol consumption include (5):

  • Drinking water or other non-alcoholic beverages between alcoholic drinks.
  • Setting limits on the number of drinks consumed and sticking to them.
  • Choosing lower-alcohol beverages, such as light beer or wine spritzers.
  • Avoiding drinking games and other activities that encourage excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Choosing alcohol-free days
  • Drinking non-alcoholic beverages when out socializing with friends and family (this can be alcohol-free beers, wines, and spirits, or naturally alcohol-free drinks)
  • Seek the help and support of friends and family or professional help if needed

The Bottom Line

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In conclusion, the correlation between alcohol consumption, chronic stress, and Alzheimer’s risk serves as a stark reminder of the multifaceted nature of brain health. By heeding the recommendations of neuroscientists and taking proactive steps to reduce stress and alcohol consumption, individuals can potentially mitigate their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. As researchers continue to unravel the intricate mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s, promoting healthy lifestyle choices and fostering a supportive environment for cognitive well-being remains pivotal in the fight against this debilitating condition.

Read More: This 5-minute personality test that can determine your Alzheimer’s risk is shockingly accurate


  1. Minorities and Women Are at Greater Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease.” CDC
  2. Alcohol and stress exposure across the lifespan are key risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease and cognitive decline.” Science Direct. Laurel R. Seemiller, et al. March 2024.
  3. Neuroscientists Warn of ‘Cascading’ Alzheimer’s Risk From These Two Habits.” Newsweek. Pandora Dewan. May 13, 2024.
  4. Stress relievers: Tips to tame stress.” Mayo Clinic
  5. How to Start Drinking Less.” CDC