Alcohol & The Effects on Memory

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Introduction

Alcohol is known to have a profound effect on your CNS and hence the brain. It will come with the greater linked association to that of short- and long-term memories one withholds. These are the memories a person may collect over the whole span of their lives and this is what makes an individual link its past to the future. 

Using alcohol for the first time and then gradually getting addicted to it is where it starts to form some discrepancies with the memory regions. The drinkers would suffer problems as they’ll be unable to recall recent events and even won’t be able to recognize faces. Ultimately, heavy usual intake can cause memory loss which is called dementia. The few of the mentioned symptoms are resolved by themselves once the effect of alcohol has diminished. This allows the person to cope up well. While in the case of heavy drinking will cause the patient to achieve sobriety. 

The common symptoms which are associated with such clinical situations are blurred vision, slurred speech, impaired memory, and slower reaction time. It's been studied and stated in the research at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that alcohol drinkers are more likely to suffer from the retrospective memory loss of acknowledgment and retention of already learned details. 

Alcohol

Alcohol is known to impart familiar cognitive changes in an individual. The alcohol is also called ethanol or ethyl alcohol (the active ingredient). Yeast, fungi are known to produce alcohol via fermentation which is breaking down these sugars. The process takes place in a controlled environment and a little air could cause the alcohol to turn into ethanoic acid.

Effect of Alcohol on Cognitive Abilities

This can even be further classified depending on two major categories of the drinkers. The drinkers can be occasional or chronic. Ultimately, the frequency of alcohol intake will account for the body damage they acquire. 

For occasional drinkers certain inabilities are seen: 

  • Memory impairment or loss causing disintegration and loss of chain of thoughts. 
  • Blackouts, fragmented, or continuous can be explained. 
  • Loss of decision making 
  • Recklessness

For chronic drinkers, the adversity gets worse with time. Brain deficit in functionality and intellectuality is seen. Following are some major problems associated with the condition: 

  • Affected cortical and cerebellar areas
  • Profound effect on the hippocampus
  • Brain size diminishes
  • Loss of the grey matter of the brain
  • Abstract thinking is hampered. 
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
  • Overall memory loss 
  • Long term effects to be seen 
  • Decreased attention span

Factors which Influence the Memory 

Usage of certain things, like alcohol for a longer time, is known to come up with profound effects on the memory stores. It can include forgetting of basic short-term memory entails or may include life long symptomatic treatment for such. Withdrawal of alcohol is the very first step in treating such abnormalities, but constant usage has caused them to get addicted to it. The factors which influence the memory to deteriorate are as follow: 

  • The amount of drug intake and its frequency 
  • The age at which the person started to take in alcohol and feed its body. 
  • The family history of alcoholism
  • Basic demographics of an individual including his age, height, gender, education, and genetic makeup. 
  • Has an individual been the fetus to receive alcohol or the parents at whom he sees were accustomed to this nasty habit? 
  • The overall general health status. 

Several disorders are associated with heavy and light drinking paired up with its elementary frequency. This is directly proportional to the risk development a person would have throughout his life. The brain undergoes minute electrical activities and to understand alcoholic effects researchers tend to use high-ended tech products in the light of such aggravations. 

According to a study made in 2013, its research shows that almost 78% of total individuals are known to be diagnosed with AUD disorders affecting the brain as a whole. 

Alcohol and Memory Loss

Alcohol and Memory Loss

Alcohol is known to affect both the long term and the short-term memory of an individual. When it comes to individuals suffering from short term memory loss, they are known to experience blackouts. These blackouts can be of either type, partial or complete. These are directly affecting the hippocampus of the brain situated in the midbrain section. Heavy drinkers are associated with cognitive impairment and effect on both long- and short-term memories as a whole. 

Alcohol and its effect on Short Term Memory 

Just you are at a distance of a few memory drinks to experience this great loss. We have seen or found alcoholic drinkers unaware of what they did earlier and how they have been there are the places where they’d be in the current situation. This implies a sole and sound effect on long term memories of an individual. Memory loss and amnesia are permanently associated with alcohol intake. Blackouts are characteristic features of all. 

Blackouts are usually associated with amnesia and memory loss letting the ethanol in the alcohol alter the electrical activity of the hippocampus in the brain. This will surely impart a negative effect in terms of memory affliction and association with past and future events overall. 

Blackouts - a characteristic sign for alcoholic addicts 

Alcohol has noticeable effects on memory just after quite a few drinks. It is directly proportional to the amount of alcohol intake. The higher the alcohol the greater the impairment. Blackouts are referred to as an elementary sign for memory loss in association with alcoholism. This occurs mostly when a large amount of alcohol is drunk in the empty stomach causing the lack of inability to remember key details and lie events.  

Mainly blackouts are a common sign associated with social drinkers and are a major sign of alcoholic intoxication. Alcohol is known to cross the Blood-brain Barrier in turn affecting major parts of the brain. Drinkers who mostly experience blackouts are usually heavy drinkers and are keen consumers of this toxic product.  This disrupts the body’s homeostasis raising alcohol levels in the blood. Mainly associated with binge drinkers who are accustomed to drinking five drinks in two hours as in men and four in women. 

It is noted that women and men have similar blackout effects although men tend to consume more. This leads us towards the fact that women are at greater risk of blackouts when compared to males. The difference lies in the basis of different metabolic rates in both genders. Women are also more susceptible to rather changes while men are tougher and stronger in every term. 

Partial and Complete Blackouts

Alcoholic consumption can result in two types of blackouts which are complete and partial. We got to know about this through research conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Binge alcoholic consumption is rather known to create a far greater amount of blackout by disrupting the normal homeostasis of the body. It causes the blood sugar level to rise which will eventually affect the brain.  

The partial blackout refers to forgetting refined memory parts with rather small alcoholic intake. It may happen that you won’t be able to recall a phone number or someone’s name despite trying hard to remember it. This is among the very initial signs of early memory loss. Later, complete blackouts are associated with forgetting things associated with you for a long period. Your cognitive power is at stake and is impaired. 

Blackouts are rather a major cause of letting people forget discriminating between right and wrong and they start indulging into bad deeds. They may get themselves into violence, adultery, fornication, vandalization and a list goes on. 

Alcohol and its effect on long term memory

Short term memory loss associated with binge drinking was known to affect the hippocampus. Greater alcoholic consumptions are mainly associated with destroying the hippocampus and the nerve cells responsible for memory encoding, storage, and retrieval. Vitamin B1 deficiency is also known to have a profound effect on memory reserves as it is one of the major and vital nutritional components for the brain cells. 

Now, alcohol interferes in quite a several ways with thiamine. Firstly, it does not allow proper thiamine intake as alcoholics are more likely to skip meals. A greater amount of alcohol is going to affect the stomach lining which causes ulcers and other relatable problems. A large amount of alcohol can even cause excessive vomiting preventing the nutrients to get absorbed well into the bloodstream. This will ultimately lead to severe dementia’s condition known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. 

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff psychosis

Thiamine is known to convert carbs to glucose. Our brain is only capable of utilizing glucose. Once thiamine gets deficient this will lead to the improper conversion of carbs to glucose and always letting the brain starve off the glucose reserves. Almost 80% of the drinkers are found to have thiamine deficiency. The Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is made up of two separate syndromes which are Wernicke’s encephalopathy- for a short period and Korsakoff’s psychosis - long-lived. 

Both syndromes have dissimilar significant signs and symptoms. Wernicke’s encephalopathy is associated with profound confusion and mental disturbances. The nerves get paralyze in this venture affecting the oculomotor pathway and uncontrolled muscle coordination. The individuals may suddenly forget the way they are on and get confused on the way before reaching the main destination. Almost 90% of drinkers suffering from Wernicke’s encephalopathy develop Korsakoff's psychosis. This causes the situation to worsen, hampering memory to be made and monitored. The problems are associated with both recalling old memories or developing in the new ones. 

Men Vs Women response towards Alcohol 

Women are more susceptible than men in several clinical conditions. This is because of their anatomy and the hormones their body produces to maintain their lives. Alcoholic women tend to adopt adverse effects associated with alcohol rather quickly. A few of the examples include early development of cirrhosis - liver damage, cardiomyopathy - damage to heart muscles, and neuropathy - nerve damage. 

Female alcoholics are known to show a greater amount of brain shrinkage when seen under the CTI and MRI scan. The women are more vulnerable to these damages when compared to males. 

Alcohol and its effect on Pregnant Women 

The umbilical cord is the way through which the alcohol from the mother passes to the fetus. Alcoholic intake during pregnancy can end up with a great amount of teratology out of which the common one is spina bifida. These occur in almost all trimesters of pregnancy. Further, a woman may end up with a fetus with stillbirth or can undergo a miscarriage. There is a wide range of disabilities associated with such intakes and can be classified under the heading of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The fetus might show Some key changes in normal body structures. It may include: 

  • Short height
  • Low body mass and weight 
  • Abnormal facial features
  • Power coordination
  • Poor memory 
  • Learning disabilities
  • Low IQ
  • Suckling problems 
  • Weak heart and kidneys

Treatment

The brain is made up of three major parts which are forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain. The hindbrain is made up of cerebellum which is mainly concerned with maintaining balance and posture which seems to deteriorate due to excessive drinking. Chronic alcohol consumption and thiamine deficiency account for cerebellar and cortical damages. Thiamine supplements and intakes are known to improve brain functionality. When supplements are no longer workable the caretakers and guardians are needed to supplement the aid. Consequently, this will account for the addicts’ social behaviours. 

Antioxidant therapy and Vitamin E is known to improve the condition. Treatment with 1-octanol is also discovered to reduce alcohol’s severity. Changing lifestyle can act to be an additional supplement moderating memory entails in the long term. Managing terms and conditions and following the practitioner’s advice is the sole motive. 

Alcohol and Liver

Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to severe liver damage and cirrhosis in certain cases. Why is the liver more prone to alcoholic damage? The liver is known to function by detoxifying the toxic materials out of the body. Continuous alcoholic consumption causes the reserves to burn out and further metabolism of alcohol is diminished. This, when adjourned with brain damage, can be collectively called hepatic encephalopathy. 

The condition is associated with disrupted sleeping patterns, moods, and personalities.  Other psychiatric conditions can even develop like anxiety and depression further accounting for daily life abnormalities. Major substances which are ammonia and manganese play a major role in hepatic encephalopathy. 

The treatment for hepatic encephalopathy is to clear the blood from ammonia by chelating it with L-aspartate or implanting an artificial liver. Liver transplantation is known to improve the condition to a greater extent. 

Consequences of Alcohol Abuse

Anything excessive and misused can turn out to be lethal. This accounts for several diseases associated with the condition. There is a greater risk for heart disease, cancer, gastric problems, pneumonia, tuberculosis, ocular problems, depression, and deteriorating mental health. Alcoholic liver disease is the major cause of death in wide populations. Different alcoholics experience different degrees of impairment and arise brain deficits to different extents. Clinicians carry out a variety of treatments to help drinkers prevent drinking further. This will eventually help in the withdrawal of signs and symptoms in the absence of alcohol.  

Summary

Alcohol consumption can cause some serious effects on the cognitive abilities and memory of a person. 

The active ingredient in alcohol is ethanol or ethyl alcohol that is made by some microorganisms in the process of fermentation. 

The effects of alcohol consumption on the cognitive abilities of a person are different in occasional drinkers vs regular drinkers. Regular alcohol consumption causes more profound cognitive disabilities. 

The effect of alcohol on memory is influenced by various factors like age, gender, amount of alcohol consumed, type of alcohol, quality of alcohol, etc. 

Alcohol can affect both the long term and short-term memories of a person. 

Blackouts are the classical signs of short-term memory loss caused by alcohol consumption. They are the reason why people indulge in bad deeds after consuming alcohol. 

Short term memory loss due to alcohol consumption results from damage to the hippocampus. 

Chronic alcohol consumption can cause permanent damage to the hippocampus and deficiency of vitamin B12. Both these factors result in amnesia seen in chronic alcoholics. 

Alcohol consumption in women has more severe effects as compared to men. 

Alcohol consumption by pregnant women can severely damage the development of the fetus. The baby is born with multiple birth anomalies. 

Alcohol consumption not only affects the memory of the person but also has major effects on the liver. It is the leading cause of fatty liver and liver cirrhosis. Both these conditions can result in hepatic encephalopathy. 

References

  1. Parsons, O.A. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism. In: Nixon, S.J., ed. Neuropsychology for Clinical Practice. Washington, DC: American Psychological Press, 1996. pp. 175–201.
  2. White, A.M. What happened? Alcohol, memory blackouts, and the brain. Alcohol Research & Health 27(2):186–196, 2003. 
  3. White, A.M.; Jamieson–Drake, D.W.; and Swartzwelder, H.S. Prevalence and correlates of alcohol–induced blackouts among college students: Results of an e–mail survey. Journal of American College Health 51:117–131, 2002. 
  4. Mumenthaler, M.S.; Taylor, J.L.; O’Hara, R.; et al. Gender differences in moderate drinking effects. Alcohol Research & Health 23:55–64, 1999. 
  5. Loft, S.; Olesen, K.L.; and Dossing, M. Increased susceptibility to liver disease in relation to alcohol consumption in women. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology 22: 1251–1256, 1987. 
  6. Fernandez– Sola, J.; Estruch, R.; Nicolas, J.M.; et al. Comparison of alcoholic cardiomyopathy in women versus men. American Journal of Cardiology 80:481–485, 1997.