How Alcohol Affects Memory: Drinking alone dulls someone’s recollection significantly, but traumatic situations will always leave a lasting imprint no matter the level of intoxication.
How Alcohol Affects Memory: The Stages of Alcohol
The effects of alcohol start after just one drink. Your motor functions slow down, you become more social, emotional and sometimes impulsive. Once you start getting up to about six to eight drinks, the alcohol will hit the central parts of your brain, slowing down your basic functioning.
Like the progression of alcohol, memory has different stages too. Our brains process memory by encoding, retrieving and storing it. And while drinking, that information gets messed up.
The Stages of Memory
Encoding is how we take in and remember new memories. We pay attention to something to encode it so we can later retrieve it from storage and remember it. That’s why, even if sober, if you’re distracted, you may not remember doing it.
Your Memories while Drinking
When you ‘blackout,’ or have memory gaps from drinking, you’re encoding what you are seeing and doing. How much you drink determines how likely you are to remember something afterwards.
Alcohol affects everyone differently, but the general rule is that blacking out can happen once someone has four or five drinks. At this point, a person could completely lose their memory or just partially.
But even if you have a small amount of alcohol, you can get fragmentary blackouts. Meaning you will temporally forget things and be reminded of what they are later. Drinking also can cause your memory and mind to fog, which will leave you with only partial memories.
Typically, when something unusual or upsetting happens while you are drinking, you will remember that because your brain encodes it.
For long-term problematic drinkers, the effects of alcohol and blackouts can cause major damage to their memory systems.
How Alcohol Affects Memory: Alcoholic Amnestic Disorder
Alcoholic Amnestic Disorder (AAA) is an amnesia disorder due to long-term alcohol use. It affects long-term memory, inability to remember recent events, and lack of awareness of a memory problem.
Someone with AAA may not be able to fill in missing information because they truly can’t believe that a memory is real. The disorder causes aggression, agitation, and depression.
Research states that about one to three percent of the general population have AAA. Due to damage from alcohol abuse, brain damage is permanent. In fact, about 80 percent of people who are diagnosed with it end up with a permanent memory disorder.
If you believe you or a loved one has a drinking problem, contact us today.