Excessive Alcohol Use and Memory Problems

You and your friends may joke about all the stuff you did last night while getting drunk that you didn’t remember. But memory problems associated with alcohol use are no laughing matter. It’s a sign of damage within the brain. Look closer at this often minimized symptom of alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction.

Blackouts and Long Term Memory Loss

According to research, it only takes one or two drinks to show evidence of memory deterioration. Blackouts or partial memories can happen with higher levels of alcohol consumption. It appears that according to a number of research articles, blackouts are related to quick rises in BAC. While this is a strong indicator of alcoholism, many social drinkers report having occasional blackouts.

With blackouts, the long term memory storage process appears to be blocked.

However, short term memory (several seconds) seems to remain intact enough for a person to do normal looking activities. When asked to recall these activities just a few minutes later, they can’t do it. Nothing seems to get transferred between immediate short term memory and long term memory storage.

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Alcohol Dementia Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is actually two separate brain disorders happening at the same time. The symptoms are due to thiamine (B1) deficiency. It is sometimes known as alcohol dementia. Heavy drinking disrupts the body’s ability to absorb the B1 vitamin, resulting in some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Can’t form new memories
  • Significant overall memory loss Confabulation (making things up to fill in memory gaps)
  • Hallucinations
  • Visual problems
  • Muscle coordination problems (unsteady walking)

Some symptoms can improve with B1 treatments and hospitalization to stabilize manage the symptoms. Sobriety can also help some symptoms improve and prevent further damage to the brain and body. But the memory problems will likely stay as they are regardless of treatment.

Other Problems Associated With Alcohol And Memory Loss

illustration of person searching a human brainImagine if you spent a night out with friends and woke up with no memory of the evening. Would you be afraid to find out what you did?

Would you be ashamed to know you were so out of control? Would the incident have a lasting affect on how you lived your life from then on? These are the important real-life questions a person has to ask themselves if they have an alcohol related blackout.

Possible risks could include unsafe sexual behavior or becoming a victim of sexual assault, spending money foolishly, getting into an accident, becoming lost and left in an unsafe location, driving despite obvious intoxication. If a person with a blackout has no memory of these events, the natural course of guilt and reparation can’t happen. They cannot feel remorseful for something they don’t remember doing, maybe don’t even believe they did. That person becomes a true danger to themselves and others.

Serious Alcohol Related Memory Problems And Alcohol Rehab

If a person has developed serious and persistent memory problems from alcohol use, they are either alcoholic or very close to it.

This is a symptom that may be overlooked or diminished in cultures or populations where heavy drinking is normalized. It is a sign of brain damage, a sign that alcohol treatment is necessary. Alcohol rehab may not be able to reverse all levels of memory impairment.

However, it can help a person establish a sober life to prevent further problems. If you are suffering from memory impairment and you drink heavily, please seek more information about starting alcohol treatment right away.

By Wendy Lee Nentwig
Guest Contributor
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