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Can Alcohol Damage My Memories?

Can Alcohol Damage My Memories?

Long-time heavy drinkers can develop serious and persistent changes in the brain

If you watch TV or movies, then you’ve probably seen people drinking. The scene probably focused on a group of people hanging out and having fun; alcohol is flowing freely with no discussions about what it does to the body and brain. In fact, the media often depicts drinking as a harmless way to enjoy an evening or to celebrate together. What the media doesn’t show is the darker side of alcohol, specifically what happens to people who drink in heavy amounts. San Diego residents can suffer from permanent brain damage if they abuse alcohol long term, so seek help as soon as possible to break this habit.

What Alcohol Does to the Brain

In the early years of study, researchers thought that alcohol killed brain cells, but a 2011 article from Live Science shows that high levels of alcohol doesn’t damage the brain cells. Rather, large amounts of alcohol cause the brain cells to release steroids that block the formation of long-term memories. In other words, the cells remain, but they block the neural connections that create memories. The brain cells lose their ability communicate with other brain cells so the memories can’t be stored.

In addition to memory loss, heavy drinking can also cause the brain to shrink. According to an article from the National Institutes of Health, repeated imaging of alcoholics who continued drinking showed progressive shrinking was significantly worse than normal age-related shrinkage. The shrinking took place not only in the frontal cortex, but also in deeper brain regions responsible for memory. The study showed that the more alcohol consumed, the more shrinkage occurred. In other words, San Diego residents should stop abusing alcohol today to protect their long-term health.

Alcohol and Blackouts

As alcohol is absorbed by the blood and travels to the brain, it impairs San Diego residents in multiple ways, such as decision-making, coordination and balance. These deficits can cause a whole host of problems, such as crime, accidents and risky behavior. As the amount of alcohol increases, so does the extent of impairment. Large amounts of alcohol, especially when consumed quickly or on an empty stomach, can produce a blackout. This is a gap in time which the drinker cannot recall details about, or even entire events. According to Vanderbilt University, people who can retain some memory have a fragmentary blackout, but people who forget everything that happened while intoxicated have an en-bloc blackout. In a total blackout, the person retains no memory of events surrounding the drinking. In general, women are at greater risk of blackouts than men, probably because men and women metabolize alcohol differently.

Alcohol and Permanent Brain Changes

People who for a long time have been heavy drinkers (15 or more drinks per week for men and eight or more drinks per week for women) can develop serious and persistent changes in the brain. These changes may be a result of the alcohol itself or because of the lifestyle associated with heavy drinking, such as poor nutrition.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, two serious problems resulting from alcohol include the following issues:

  • Wernicke Encephalopathy – A short-term condition marked by mental confusion, paralysis of the eye nerves and difficulty with muscular coordination. For example, people with this condition cannot find their way out of a room, or they may not be able to walk.
  • Korsakoff’s Psychosis – About 80-90 percent of people with Wernicke encephalopathy will also develop this disease, which is marked by learning and memory problems. People with this syndrome are forgetful, easily frustrated and have problems with walking and coordination. They struggle to remember old and new information. They may not be able to recall a conversation that occurred just an hour ago.

According to the Huffington Post, older adults with a history of problem drinking in midlife are more than twice as likely as non-drinkers to have severe memory and cognitive problems. In addition, men who are moderate to heavy drinkers show signs of this cognitive impairment up to six years sooner than light drinkers or those who don’t drink. Drinking too much can have serious repercussions, even years from now, for any San Diego resident.

The only way to avoid potential memory loss from drinking too much is to stick to the guidelines set forth by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. It recommends that women have no more than three drinks on any day and no more than seven drinks per week. Men should have no more than four drinks on any day and no more than 14 drinks per week.

Help for San Diego Alcoholics

If you think that you or a San Diego loved one has a drinking problem, we can help. Call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline anytime to talk with one of our admissions coordinators about your symptoms and concerns. Our staff can help you determine what actions you need to take to move forward, so do not let alcohol rob you of your memories. Call us today for instant help.