Do you like to drink alcohol occasionally? You’re far from alone. In fact, more than 85% of adults have reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lives.
And 2020 was a big year for alcohol consumption in the U.S., with heavy drinking increasing by 41% among women.
Though having an alcoholic beverage every now and then is usually low-risk, overindulging in drinking can have serious consequences for the brain.
Not to mention, long-term alcohol abuse will cause neurological damage.
Does alcohol affect memory?
Yes, it does. And in more ways than one, too. We’ll explore how alcohol affects different types of memories, both in the short-term and long-term.
Short-term memory loss from alcohol
Have you ever had a night where you drank a little bit too much and couldn’t remember what happened the next morning? That’s because alcohol can cause short-term memory loss.
How? Alcohol impairs the ability to make new memories or recall old ones. This is because alcohol affects the part of the brain responsible for forming new memories (the hippocampus).
It also interferes with the way information is processed by the brain.
In other words, when you drink alcohol, you may be able to form new memories. But the next day, you may not be able to recall them as well as you could before drinking.
Long-term memory loss from alcohol
While short-term memory loss from alcohol is usually temporary, long-term memory loss can be permanent.
This is because chronic drinking can cause damage to the hippocampus, which is responsible for forming long-term memories.
This damage can lead to problems with learning and memory that persist even after you Sober up.
Damage to other areas of the brain can also cause long-term memory loss. For example, alcoholics are more likely to have thiamine deficiency.
Thiamine is a vitamin that’s important for the function of the brain. A lack of thiamine can lead to neurological problems, including memory loss.
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Can alcohol cause false memories?
It’s well-known that alcohol can impair your memory. But what’s less well-known is that it can also cause false memories.
A false memory is when you remember something that didn’t actually happen.
So, if you have a night where you drink and then can’t remember what happened, it’s possible that you just remember things incorrectly.
This is because alcohol can interfere with your ability to create long-term memories in the first place.
But it can also interfere with your ability to retrieve memories correctly. This means you may end up remembering events differently than they actually happened.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that every time you can’t remember something after drinking, you’ve created a false memory. But it’s something to be aware of, especially if you’re relying on your memory of an event for important decision-making.
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Does alcohol cause dementia?
Dementia is a general term for a decline in cognitive function. This can involve problems with memory, language, thinking, and judgment. And while alcohol abuse doesn’t cause dementia, it can be a contributing factor.
This is because heavy drinking can lead to brain damage that causes dementia-like symptoms. For example, chronic drinking can cause shrinkage of the hippocampus, which can lead to problems with memory and learning.
It’s important to note that not all heavy drinkers will develop dementia. But it is a risk factor, especially for those who already have a family history of the condition.
Is memory loss from alcohol reversible?
The good news is that, in most cases, memory loss from alcohol is reversible. If you’re dealing with short-term memory loss, it will usually go away once the alcohol has cleared your system. And if you’re struggling with long-term memory loss, there are treatments available that can help.
For example, some research suggests that vitamin B supplementation can help improve memory in people with alcohol-related brain damage. There’s also evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy can help people with alcohol-related memory problems.
If you’re concerned about your drinking and its impact on your memory, talk to your doctor. They can help you assess your risk and develop a plan to reduce your consumption or stop drinking altogether.
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Will my memory improve if I stop drinking?
If you’re struggling with memory problems due to chronic drinking, the good news is that your memory may improve once you stop drinking.
This is because alcohol-related damage to the brain is usually reversible.
So, if you’re dealing with long-term memory loss, treatment and abstinence from alcohol can help improve your symptoms.
Of course, it’s important to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your drinking habits. They can help you assess your risk and develop a plan that’s right for you.
By working with your doctor and making some lifestyle changes, you can improve your memory and quality of life.
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The bottom line
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that can lead to brain damage and cognitive impairment.
Heavy drinking can cause a type of brain damage known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which leads to dementia-like symptoms including memory loss and confabulation (making up stories).
However, in most cases, memory loss due to alcohol is reversible. If you’re concerned about your drinking and its impact on your memory, talk to your doctor.
They can help you assess your risk and develop a plan to reduce your consumption or stop drinking altogether.