Can Alcohol Damage My Memories?

Can Alcohol Damage My Memories?

Heavy drinking can lead to long-term damage to the brain’s ability to store memories

If you are wondering whether or not alcohol can damage your memories, the answer is yes, it can. Alcohol has long been known for damaging memory in individuals who use it excessively. Drinking affects many cognitive functions including motor skills, decision making and balance, and even after only one or two drinks, alcohol can begin to impact your memory.

Alcohol can affect both short and long-term memory function. One instance of heavy drinking can lead to short-term memory lapses, and many years of heavy drinking can lead to more serious memory loss. If you have a drinking problem, seeking treatment early can prevent long-term memory impairment. There is always hope for recovery with the right help.

Alcohol and Short-Term Memory Loss

After a night of drinking, a person may experience unclear memories the next day. He may even be completely unable to recall certain events or have no recollection of the night whatsoever — this experience is known as a blackout, a phenomena that occurs when enough alcohol is consumed to block the formation of new memories while the individual is intoxicated.

According to Live Science, blackouts do not occur because alcohol kills brain cells, as many individuals believe. Rather, excessive alcohol use causes brain cells to create steroids that block memories from being created. Although blackouts prevent the formation of new memories, blackouts do not have any adverse effect on memories that are already stored in the individual’s brain. Blackouts are primarily caused by the way alcohol interacts with the hippocampus, the area of the brain that consolidates memories.

Different people may experience different types of blackouts, according to the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism. There are two types of blackouts: en bloc blackouts, which occur when the individual has no recollection of a stretch of time, and fragmentary blackouts, which are characterized by spotty memory. Someone who has suffered an en bloc blackout will not be able to recall anything that occurred while he was intoxicated, even if reminded of the events. An individual who experiences a fragmentary blackout will have some memory of being intoxicated.

During an en bloc blackout, a person may retain a few seconds of short-memory, allowing him to carry on conversations, drive and engage in other behaviors that can be dangerous while intoxicated. Individuals with an en bloc blackout can participate in complicated behaviors while intoxicated, but these experiences are not stored in the individual’s long-term memory. Fragmentary blackouts only partially block the formation of long-term memories, and are far more common than en bloc blackouts. Individuals often realize in the middle of a fragmentary blackout that their memory is not quite right, but usually only after being reminded of forgotten events or details. Unlike en bloc blackouts, reminders from others of what transpired can help the individual with a fragmented blackout recall more information.

Alcohol and Long-Term Memory Loss

Although one alcohol binge may not lead to permanent brain damage, it is important to note that over the course of many years, heavy drinking can lead to long-term damage to the brain’s ability to store memories. In fact, problem drinking makes it twice as likely that an individual will suffer from memory problems later in life, according to a study by Dr. Iain Lang of the University of Exeter medical school. For eight consecutive years, scientists assessed the mental capabilities of more than 6,000 middle aged individuals and asked them about their alcohol use. During 19 years of follow-up with the study’s participants, it was discovered that “history of Alcohol Use Disorders (AUDs) more than doubled the odds of severe memory impairment.” Results of the study were published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Time magazine reported on another study of memory loss in individuals who drink. In this study, researchers discovered that men who drink at least 2.5 drinks a day can speed up their memory loss by as many as six years. For a ten year period, researchers from University College London noted the drinking habits of more than 5,000 men and more than 2,000 women at three separate intervals. After reaching the age of 56, the participants took memory tests over the next ten years. The study revealed that men who drink an average of 2.5 drinks per day demonstrated memory loss sooner than men who drank less than 2.5 drinks or who did not drink at all. There was not a similar connection found between alcohol use and memory loss in women.

Alcohol and Memory Loss

There is no doubt that alcohol has a significant impact on cognitive function and can impair memory in significant ways. Whether it is short-term memory loss in the form of a blackout or more severe memory loss in old age, individuals who drink heavily are likely to experience memory problems at some point in their lives. Although problem drinking makes it more likely that an individual will experience the negative effects of alcohol use, with the help of high quality addiction treatment, any person who is willing can leave alcohol use behind for good.

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If you or someone you love is addicted to alcohol, please don’t lose hope. Call our toll-free helpline to learn more about the treatment programs that can help you or your loved one achieve a long lasting recovery. We are able 24 hours a day, seven days a week to take your call and help you find your way to recovery. Don’t hesitate to call us now.