Can Alcohol Affect Your Memory?

can alcohol affect your memory drinking blackout


Many of us will find that as we age, conversations and concerns about memory loss start to become commonplace. We might start seeing cases of memory loss in our family and friends, from mild instances like constantly forgetting to take keys, to severe cases like early onset of dementia. We may even resort to both clinical and natural remedies in a bid to avoid memory loss altogether. 

However, in the midst of doing more Sudoku puzzles and stocking up on “brain food”, what many of us overlook is how consuming alcohol can negatively impact our memory and negate all these other efforts. In fact, scientific research has established that heavy alcohol does have damaging effects on the brain. This means that you should not delay seeking help for substance abuse or alcoholism in order to keep yourself healthy. To help you get a better understanding of this phenomenon and assess if you are at risk, here are some frequently-asked-questions and answers. 

How does alcohol affect short- and long-term memory? 

1. Alcohol And Short-Term Memory Loss 

Firstly, heavy alcohol consumption can easily affect your short-term memory. If you often drink socially or enjoy binge drinking, you might have already experienced some of these effects firsthand. 

For example, you might come home only to realize you forgot where you’ve left your phone, or have completely zero recollection of how you got home. In more serious cases, some people might not even remember details of what you did the entire night. This is what doctors call a blackout. 

Why this happens is because alcohol affects your brain chemistry and how the nerves connect or communicate with each other. Without alcohol, the nerves in your brain communicate quickly, forming and maintaining memories in the hippocampus region. However, under the influence, these connections and nerve movements slow down tremendously, leading to short-term memory loss. Studies have shown that it takes as little as five drinks in a night for these effects to occur. 

2. Alcohol And Long-Term Memory Loss 

In movies, short-term amnesia from alcohol is often portrayed as a humorous situation. Take the comedy series The Hangover for instance, where the entire plot revolves around the protagonists forgetting what happened the night before. However, in reality, memory loss from alcohol is no laughing matter. In fact, prolonged drinking can permanently damage and destroy nerve endings — the same ones that control your memory. 

Apart from directly impacting the hippocampus region, alcohol also affects the body in other ways that may indirectly lead to damaged memory as well. It’s no secret, for one, that consuming too much alcohol can cause vomiting and irritation of the stomach lining. This impedes the stomach’s ability to absorb much-needed nutrients that promote and sustain brain health, hence speeding up the degradation of brain cells over time. 

In addition, the production of the vitamin thiamine is hindered when one consumes alcohol frequently. This vitamin is crucial to strengthening nerve endings and brain cells, so when there’s a lack of this in the body, the problem of memory loss is exacerbated. 

When these different impacts are combined, the risk of long-term memory loss is heightened for many individuals. As a matter of fact, there have been so many cases that dementia caused by heavy alcohol consumption has been classified and given a name. Known as the Wernicke- Korsakoff Syndrome, this condition causes you to have significant gaps in your memory and can greatly reduce the quality of life if left untreated. 

Am I At Risk Of Memory Loss From Alcohol Consumption? 

Simply put, you are at risk of memory loss from alcohol consumption if you exceed the recommended alcohol limit — which is one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That said, moderation is required and it’s not recommended for you to drink every day. 

The risk is magnified if you are an older adult as your brain is much more vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol. After all, as you grow older, the cells in your hippocampus region inevitably start to degrade, and alcohol only serves to accelerate that process. As a result, what is a mild case of memory loss can worsen with the consumption of alcohol. Moreover, your metabolism rate slows as you age and the alcohol remains in your system for much longer. This magnifies the impact of drinking and the damage done to your body. 

Is Memory Loss From Alcohol Consumption Curable? 

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for memory loss. However, its symptoms can be treated and managed if detected early. 

Symptoms are usually quite obvious. For starters, if you start forgetting conversations more frequently or have problems focusing at work, it can be a sign of short-term memory loss. You might even ask the same questions over and over again, or experience difficulty in learning new things — even trivial things like playing a new mobile phone game. In more severe cases, your loved ones may also notice negative changes in your personality, such as becoming more prone to anger and frustration. 

If you suspect that you are facing memory loss, do consult a doctor. While there is no cure, there are ways to slow the degradation of brain cells and improve memory retention. Your doctor may recommend taking medication like memantine or prescribe a course of thiamine supplementation to counter the symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. 

If you do mention drinking as a significant suspect in short- and long-term memory loss, your doctor is also likely to treat you for alcohol use disorder. This protects you from withdrawal symptoms like delirium, fever, and organ damage — all of which can be fatal in some cases. If your dependency on alcohol is high, you may need to stay in a hospital while undergoing treatment. 

Drinking in moderation is fine, but heavy alcohol dependence is not. If you find yourself in the latter category, other than seeking medical treatment, it’s also recommended that you make some changes to your lifestyle. You can take steps to reduce drinking, such as joining accountability groups like AA or telling your friends and family. You should also dispose of alcohol in your home and refrain from buying more. 


All in all, the effects of alcohol on memory loss are real and irreversible, so it’s always good to err on the side of caution. If you find that you’re starting to exhibit symptoms of short- or long- term memory loss, do seek treatment and take steps to protect your health today.

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