How Does Alcoholism Affect Memory?

Alcoholism is a devastating affliction that can cause major damage to the brain and body. The more we drink, the more likely we will be to face problems with our memory. Alcohol can affect both short-term and long-term memory, as well as increase our likelihood of developing neurodegenerative problems later in life.
One of the most obvious and immediate effects of alcohol on memory is experiencing a blackout.  When a person takes in large amounts of alcohol, they are unable to form new memories. Brain cells responsible for creating new memories are blocked when an individual becomes highly intoxicated. Jennifer Welsh, in a 2011 Live Science article entitled Alcohol’s Memory Impairments Not Due to ‘Killing Brain Cells’, explained, “When bathed in alcohol, these brain cells lose their ability to connect and communicate with other brain cells. The connections are what underlie all memories. If the connections can’t be made, the memories of experiences can’t be saved.” However, it is not only short-term memory that is affected by heavy drinking.
Men who drink an average of 2.5 drinks per day or more have been found to show signs of memory loss sooner than men who drink less or not at all, according to researchers from University College London in the UK. The study involved more than 5,000 men and 2,000 women, and examined their memory and drinking habits for over a decade. According to Kim Painter, in a 2014 USA Today article entitled men Who Drink Heavily Lose Memories Faster With Age, “In addition to cognitive risks, drinking is associated with increased risks of breast cancer in women and increases in car crashes, violence and liver disease. Some evidence suggests moderate drinking is beneficial for heart health in some older adults.”
Alcohol can also cause a person to become deficient in the necessary vitamin thiamine. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, up to 80 percent of people suffering from alcoholism are deficient in thiamine. The deficiency can eventually lead to a severe cognitive condition known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.
The condition begins with Wernicke’s encephalopathy, characterized by mental confusion and difficulty with coordination, and is likely to develop into the second stage, Korsakoff’s psychosis. According to the NIAAA, Korsakoff’s psychosis leads to severe problems with memory and coordination, and, “Although these patients have problems remembering old information (i.e., retrograde amnesia), it is their difficulty in “laying down” new information (i.e., anterograde amnesia) that is the most striking.” Treatment does exist to potentially reverse the effects of alcohol-induced memory problems, but it must be addressed immediately.

Your story doesn’t have to be one of health problems as a result of addiction. You can make the decision to seek help today and embark upon the rewarding journey of recovery. Oceanfront Recovery, a modern and effective Substance Abuse Disorder and Dual-Diagnosis Treatment Center in the heart of beautiful Laguna Beach, is staffed with a passionate team of clinicians and care providers to create the perfect environment for you or your loved one to begin the process of healing from addiction. For information about individualized treatment options, please call today: (877) 279-1777