Heavy Alcohol Use & Memory Loss

Heavy alcohol use can cause short-term memory loss in the form of blackouts. It can also lead to an increased risk of long-term memory loss.

Heavy alcohol use can cause short-term memory loss in the form of blackouts. It can also lead to an increased risk of long-term memory loss in the form of Wernicke-korsakoff syndrome, a chronic memory disorder.

Heavy drinking is a habit of excessive, long-term alcohol consumption. On average, heavy drinking is defined by having more than 8 alcoholic drinks per week for women, and more than 15 alcoholic drinks per week for men.

Unhealthy drinking habits over a long period of time can increase your risk of impaired brain function, mental health problems, alcohol addiction, brain damage, and other serious issues.

Heavy Alcohol Use & Short-Term Memory Loss

Drinking a large amount of alcohol in one night can cause you to black out, or forget events that happened while you were intoxicated. Heavy drinking puts you at a higher risk of blackouts per night than people who drink moderately or not at all.

Memory blackouts can occur when your blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, becomes 0.16% or higher. Blackouts often come with severe impairment to cognitive functions and decision-making.

A person may be unable to recall events that happened when they were severely intoxicated, such as locations they visited or people they conversed with.

Some studies suggest the effects of alcohol can harm certain areas of the brain more than others. A 2000 study reported brain cells in the hippocampus, a part of the brain crucial to forming new memories, were especially sensitive to alcohol consumption.

Heavy Alcohol Use & Long-Term Memory Loss

Wernicke-korsakoff syndrome, or WKS, is a memory disorder caused by a lack of thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, in the brain. This thiamine deficiency may be caused by malnutrition and chronic alcohol abuse.

WKS can prevent the formation of new memories, cause issues with the retrieval of old memories, and be involved in other severe memory problems. It is divided into two stages: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome.

Wernicke’s Encephalopathy

The first stage, Wernicke’s encephalopathy, is characterized by brain damage, confusion, and coordination problems.

Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke’s encephalopathy may progress into Korsakoff syndrome if left untreated. Korsakoff syndrome is characterized by further damage to the nervous system, cognitive decline, and severe memory impairment.

Alcohol-Related Dementia

Heavy alcohol use may make certain forms of dementia worse, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. Heavy drinking may also increase the risk of dementia developing.

A 2016 study concluded that Alzheimer’s patients who drank heavily showed faster rates of cognitive decline, and that excessive drinking may worsen the outlook of patients with Alzheimer’s.

Historically, moderate drinking has been believed to reduce the risk of dementia, as opposed to heavy drinking. However, many experts do not recommend moderate drinking as a preventive measure against dementia, due to the lack of conclusive research and overall health risks.

Heavy Alcohol Use & Everyday Memory Recall

Heavy use of alcohol affects both memory formation and everyday cognition. A 2006 study reported that heavy alcohol use was linked to everyday memory impairment.

Everyday memory may involve remembering the birthday of a loved one, keeping track of minor tasks, and recalling information you previously gave to others.
These functions may be hindered by daily heavy drinking.

Treating Alcohol-Related Memory Impairment

Many treatment options for alcohol-related memory impairment advise the patient to stop drinking alcohol.

Treatment for WKS may involve implementing a healthy diet and prescribing thiamine supplements. Further nerve and brain damage may be prevented with the proper treatment plan.

Patients who present with alcohol-related memory impairment may also present with symptoms of alcohol use disorder, due to unhealthy drinking habits. Dependency and alcohol withdrawal symptoms are common in patients with an AUD.

To see if our alcohol addiction treatment program works for you or your family member, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center today.

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

Published on

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This page does not provide medical advice.

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