6 Tips for Managing Alcohol Abuse and Dementia

Get useful tips to reduce symptoms and behaviors of alcohol abuse and dementia

Dementia and alcoholism don’t mix well

When someone with a history of alcohol abuse develops Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, it can become a very challenging situation for families to manage.

Alcoholism plus dementia causes faster decline in skills needed to function independently, worsens behavioral problems, and raises safety concerns for the person with dementia and the people caring for them.

Alcohol and medication are also a dangerous combination.

Someone who is drinking is at higher risk for serious drug interactions that could cause falls, increased confusion, internal bleeding, heart problems, and more.

What makes managing alcoholism especially tough is that the person with dementia often won’t remember how much they drank, will resist attempts to reduce their drinking, and will neglect their nutrition, water intake, and hygiene.

Realistically, the overuse of alcohol has most likely been going on for a long time and will probably be a difficult behavior to change completely or quickly.

To reduce challenging symptoms and behaviors as well as make sure the situation is safe, we’ve got 6 tips for coping with dementia and alcohol abuse.


6 tips for managing dementia and alcohol abuse

1. Remove all alcohol from the environment

  • Clear out all the alcohol in the home, including cough syrup and other “innocent” sources
  • Make sure all family and friends know not to buy or bring any alcohol
  • Notify liquor or grocery stores not to deliver alcohol
  • If necessary, restrict access to money that can be used to buy alcohol

Important: Before removing alcohol, check with your older adult’s doctor to make sure you won’t be causing any harm to their health. In some cases, people may experience severe withdrawal or other unintended side effects.

2. Substitute non-alcoholic wine or beer
Some people may be at a point in the dementia where they wouldn’t notice if their regular drinks were replaced with non-alcoholic or low-alcohol versions.

For wine, you could even disguise the swap by using a regular wine bottle and replacing the contents with non-alcoholic wine.

3. Take safety measures

4. Protect yourself
Alcoholism and dementia are two serious conditions that cause angry outbursts or violent behavior in some people. Together, they can cause even worse behavior.

That’s why it’s important to know your limits and make sure that the situation is safe. If your older adult becomes overly aggressive or violent, it’s time to remove yourself and seek professional help.

Caring for someone with both alcoholism and dementia is very challenging. Getting additional support will also help you cope.

That could include caregiver support groups (in person or online), therapy or counseling, or support groups for people who are close to an alcoholic.

5. Find out what’s causing the alcohol abuse
Your older adult is unlikely to tell you why they drink, but you may be able to pick up clues by observing what they say and do.

It could be that they’re depressed, anxious, lonely, or grieving.

If you suspect an emotional issue, speak with a geriatric psychiatrist or experienced therapist to figure out how to get your older adult the help and support they need to reduce the need to drink.

6. Get help from professionals

  • Ask doctors for advice
  • Contact Alzheimer’s or dementia organizations to find out about local resources for alcoholics with dementia – the Alzheimer’s Association is a great place to start
  • Call addiction organizations to see if there are any programs available for people with dementia


Traditional rehab may not be a realistic option

When someone has dementia, voluntarily participating in a traditional rehab program for alcohol addiction is not likely to happen.

When the brain is already damaged by dementia, making good decisions and building new habits and ways of thinking becomes very difficult or impossible.

In some cases, people with dementia may be hospitalized to detox from alcohol and later, moved to a secured memory care community where there is no access (or controlled access) to alcohol.


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By DailyCaring Editorial Team


  • Reply August 25, 2020

    Bill B

    There are now non-alcoholic versions of most popular beers eg Budweiser, Heineken available. They look and taste much like their alcoholic cousins, making it easier to pass them off as the real thing.

    • Reply August 25, 2020


      That’s a great point! Thanks for the helpful suggestion.

    • Reply June 15, 2021


      Thanks so much for this tip! He used to drink Busch beer so was easy to pass the NA off. He likes it & is much happier with life in general. I’m grateful & thankful. Alcohol has never done anyone any favors!

  • Reply July 10, 2020

    Michele Speight

    My Dad has lived in our annex for 13 yrs.. the last 4 with Alzheimer’s. Since covid-19 his clubs have finished, my family are now working from home and homeschooling and he started drinking and he is aggressive and really nasty to everybody. I am his power of attorney and I’m trying to get him help but the mental health teams are more interested in how he feels then how the family caring for him is coping …I too I’m at my wits end.

    • Reply July 10, 2020


      It’s wonderful that you’re able to have your dad live with you. We’re so sorry to hear about your dad’s recent drinking and mean behavior caused by Covid-19 isolation. It’s great that you’ve gotten help for him, hopefully that helps steer him toward healthier coping strategies.

      This behavior certainly adds to your and your family’s stress. Since your dad’s mental health teams aren’t able to help you too, you may want to look into separate counseling or therapy services. We share 3 helpful resources here — 3 Sources of Affordable Counseling Services to Reduce Caregiver Stress https://dailycaring.com/low-cost-therapy-options-help-caregivers-cope/

  • Reply November 14, 2019

    Sue Shannon

    How do you go about getting him admitted to a care facility…..I am frantic and at my wits end.

    • Reply November 22, 2019


      I’m so sorry this is happening. If you choose to move someone to a care community, the person with Power of Attorney would have the ability to make those legal and financial decisions. From there, it’s a matter of selecting the care community and being able to pay for it.

  • Reply December 26, 2018


    What about everybody else? What about our safety? How do I protect myself my children and my pets. He’s always been a piece of s*** but now he’s a demented piece of s***. I wish he would die. My mother is dying trying to take care of him. He’s made everyone in my life miserable. He crippled my child. All he cares about is a drink and another drink. It’s always been the only thing he cared about.

    • Reply December 26, 2018


      I’m so sorry this is happening, it’s clearly a difficult situation. If your and your family’s safety is at risk, it’s time to consider moving him to a memory care or assisted living community where he can be cared for by a professional staff.

    • Reply July 26, 2020


      I know exactly what you mean. I too have lived with this piece of s*** for 10 years and he’s brought nothing but destruction to my family. Worse now, he doesn’t even f***ing remember and is constantly, I mean constantly not only in denial but rude and angry towards anyone that suggests otherwise. Demented alcoholics are one very good reason to allow euthanasia.

      • Reply November 3, 2020

        Sharon Hellesen

        I’m going through pretty much the same thing. My husband has been a drinker for as long as I can remember. He’s got worse over the years. He’s 74 now and is drinking everyday. He can’t remember the simplest things. He isn’t handling his responsibilities at all. He leaves the house everyday. He says he’s going to the hardware store etc only to go to his favorite bar(s). He’s gone all day with no check ins at home. I never know when he’s coming home. When he does come home he goes straight to bed. He sleeps for hours. When he gets up in the morning, it starts all over. Same thing day after day. Drinks coffee, eats breakfast, showers, gets dressed and leaves. Never says he’s going to the bar, always says he’s going somewhere else. Places that should only take an hour or less. After a certain amount of time, I know where he is, at a bar. It truly does suck!!

  • Reply February 7, 2018


    I’ve found diluting the alcohol with water has worked wonders. So far in the 2 months I’ve been doing this, there is much less confusion and alcohol related chaos. My husband has not noticed the difference and still enjoys what he drinks. I think the drinking is more out of habit and ritual than experiencing the effects of the alcohol at this point. Earlier this probably would not have worked with him.

    • Reply February 10, 2018


      Fantastic suggestion!! A great thing to try, especially if someone is a bit more advanced in their dementia.

    • Reply September 11, 2019

      J Buzz

      Does it work with beer?

      • Reply September 11, 2019


        You could give it a try to see if it would work for your situation. Maybe try plain soda water to keep it bubbly?

  • Reply January 16, 2018

    Kate Harmond

    Can I suggest that instantly cutting off alcohol to a dependent drinker can be fatal.
    Please don’t do this unilaterally without medical advice and qualified supervision.
    Withdrawal symptoms can include fits, brain injury and hallucinations.
    I have personal experience of this and well-meaning attempts to control alcohol access can have severe unwanted repercussions.

    • Reply January 20, 2018


      Kate — That’s a great point, depending on the severity of the alcohol addiction, going cold turkey may not be a good way to manage the situation. It’s always good to check with a doctor to make sure any changes will be beneficial in the specific situation.

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