Does Alcohol Cause Memory Loss?

Long-term alcohol abuse often causes severe memory loss or early onset of dementia. Made by a simple process of ethanol fermentation, alcohol is the outcome of converting sugar into carbon and alcohol. It is the ethanol in alcohol that destroys brain cells, shrinks portions of the brain, and ultimately leads to alcohol addiction.

Having a few drinks occasionally will not affect your memory. However, chronic alcohol intoxication forces the brain to compensate for damage to brain cells and their ability to send signals to other areas of the brain. Imaging scans of the brains of alcohol abusers consistently show an overall reduction in brain matter and abnormally large spaces separating brain lobes.

Alcohol-related Blackouts and Memory Loss

Blackouts may occur if a person drinks heavily, passes out, and cannot remember anything of the previous night in the morning. Blackouts happen when enough alcohol is consumed to prevent the transfer of short-term memories to long-term storage of memories. Unless your short-term memories can be consolidated in the hippocampus, you’ll be unable to recall them.

Fragmentary Blackouts

Not all blackouts result in complete memory loss. Fragmentary blackouts are characterized by the recall of memory “islands”, or fragments of memories that do not follow a comprehensible timeline. For example, a person might wake up in the morning after a night of heavy drinking, remember getting in their car, but can’t remember what happened after that.

Complete Amnesia Blackout

If you drink enough alcohol, your brain will be incapable of forming a single memory of what you did when you were drunk. Consequently, individuals suffering from blackout amnesia have permanently lost any memories of what they said or did during a night of heavy drinking.

Are Memory Problems Reversible in Long-term Alcohol Abusers?

The severity of memory loss affecting alcoholics depends on several factors:

  • Is there a family history of alcohol use disorder?
  • Is the person male or female? Men tend to suffer from more severe memory issues than women.
  • When did the person start drinking heavily? The earlier in life an individual starts drinking, the more likely they will experience permanent memory loss as they age.
  • What is the overall mental and physical health of the individual? Alcohol abusers with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or hypertension are more vulnerable to memory loss or dementia.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Permanent memory loss attributed to alcoholism is often diagnosed as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (“wet brain”). In addition to the inability to recall short-term and long-term memories, people with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome may fabricate memories to fill in memory gaps. Doctors aren’t sure why alcoholics with this syndrome confabulate memories but they speculate that a deficiency of vitamin B1 (thiamine) due to alcohol preventing the absorption of B1 by the body is responsible for memory loss.

Other symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff resemble symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, such as aggressive behavior, depression, becoming easily agitated, and experiencing visual or audio hallucinations.

Get Help for Alcohol Abuse Disorder By Contacting East Point Recovery Center

If you or someone you know is abusing alcohol, have tried to stop drinking, and can’t stop drinking, don’t hesitate to call East Point Recovery Center today for immediate assistance with overcoming alcohol addiction.