When Young People Abuse Drugs, Risk Factors for Dementia Increase

Doctor checking brain scans for dementia.

The amazing tool that is science has done so much for us. Science has helped and continues to help us learn more about things, it helps us improve our quality of living and longevity of life, it helps us take more responsibility for our planet and our condition, etc. Science expands our knowledge greatly, forwarding the intelligence of our race and improving our understanding of the world.

Science also does wonders for advancing our conditions in health. Case in point, a team of Swedish scientists and researchers were able to identify nine risks factors that occur in teens that are intrinsically tied to the early onset of dementia. While such words would instantly cause fear and concern in parents, the good news is that most of the risk factors can be prevented or treated.

What Occurs in a Teen’s Life that Predisposes Early Dementia

Early dementia is defined as any dementia that occurs in an individual before the age of sixty-five. While we would not have known it just a few years ago, actions can be taken in one’s teen and young adult years that actually reduce the risk of contracting dementia later on in life.

Of the risk factors, alcohol abuse in one’s teen years was the most predominant factor in what brought on early dementia. Contrary to popular belief, it was factors in one’s youth that predicated dementia, not hereditary factors. According to Peter Nordstrom, lead researcher on the Swedish team: “In contrast, the influence of hereditary factors, that is dementia in the parents, was very small.”

The Swedish Study

The Swedish study was fascinating. The study took a group of thousands of Swedish military men, all of whom had been drafted into the military from 1969 to 1979. All were about eighteen years of age when they were drafted. Decades later, thirty-seven years to be exact, the men were followed up with and examined medically. Four-hundred and eighty-seven of them had developed early-onset dementia, with their dementia forming at about the age of fifty-four.

Man suffering from dementia.

Some of the most common risk factors found in the majority of men with early dementia were:

  • Alcohol intoxication
  • Stroke
  • Use of antipsychotic drugs
  • A father who struggled with dementia
  • Depression
  • Drug abuse
  • Poor mental function as a teen
  • Being short
  • Having high blood pressure

No less than sixty-eight percent of adults examined in the study had at least one of the above factors in their younger years. The most common factor of them all was alcohol abuse.

Across the world, dementia affects about thirty-five million people. Because of various factors like the ones listed above and others like them, dementia statistics are expected to increase dramatically by 2050.

Preventing Early Onset Dementia

An American medical expert who analyzed and confirmed the Swedish study, Dr. Deborah Levine, said that: “Young-onset dementia, before age 65, is a devastating condition for patients and their families. This is urgent because adults with young-onset dementia and their families really need our help. More Americans may develop young-onset dementia because of increases in traumatic brain injury among young veterans and stroke among young African-Americans and middle-aged adults.”

It is clear that, while one might not be able to guarantee dementia-prevention, one can certainly take precautions and certain actions that will strongly reduce one’s chances of an onset of dementia, early or not. Abstaining from any alcohol or drug use, especially in one’s early, formative years, is a great leap in dementia prevention.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.