Alcohol and memory loss go hand in hand, but most of us don’t know the extent to which alcohol can cause memory loss or how permanent it may be once you’ve already lost it. This is because scientists don’t yet have all the facts about alcohol and memory loss — there are five known facts, but there are still many unknowns that researchers are working on unraveling. Nevertheless, here are five things you probably didn’t know about alcohol and memory loss.
1) Alcohol Causes Blackouts
A blackout is the most extreme form of memory loss. It’s a complete loss of recollection for a period of time that happens when you drink enough alcohol to disrupt your brain’s ability to create memories. Blackouts can last from one hour to 12 hours, depending on how much alcohol was consumed.
You might not remember what happened in a blackout because your hippocampus–the region of the brain that stores memories–is unable to transfer short-term memories into long-term ones.
2) Even Moderate Drinking Can Impair Memory
Even moderate drinking can impair memory. The reason for this is that alcohol can affect the hippocampus, an area of the brain that helps process new information. With a damaged hippocampus, it becomes difficult to make sense of what you’re experiencing at any given time. Alcoholics often report waking up in strange places without knowing how they got there or with no recollection of events from their evening out. A 2012 study found that people who drink moderately showed impaired word recall when compared with non-drinkers or heavy drinkers.
3) Alcohol Damages the Hippocampus
The hippocampus is a brain part that is mostly involved in the formation of memory. When an individual drinks alcohol, it can cause damage to the hippocampus. This can lead to problems with learning and memory function. It may also lead to anterograde amnesia, which refers to the inability to form new memories. Basically, people who drink alcohol might not remember anything they did while they were drinking because it’s disrupting their long-term memory storage.
4) Binge Drinking Is Particularly Dangerous
Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive alcohol consumption, putting people at risk for blackouts and memory loss. One night of binge drinking can lead to a blood alcohol content that’s the equivalent of four or five drinks. To put it in perspective, one drink will typically slow reaction time by about 8%. The more you drink over an extended period of time, the greater the likelihood that your brain will not be able to function normally due to a lack of oxygen.
5) There Are Some Ways to Protect Your Memory
Some of the ways that you can protect your memory are by eating a healthy diet, going for regular exercise, staying socially active, and maintaining a healthy weight. If you’re experiencing alcohol-related memory loss, talk to your doctor about how to wean yourself off of alcohol or other substances. It can be really difficult, but in the long run, it will be worth it.