Everyone is familiar with the typical blackouts and temporary memory loss associated with a night of heavy drinking, but many people don't realize how much alcohol abuse can permanently affect your brain and your memory. Alcohol can actually affect a person's ability to create new long term memories and the more severe a person's drinking habits are the more likely they are to develop cognitive disorders.
While drinking alcohol can have plenty of short effects on the brain that can impair important functions like memory and learning a number of cases show that these problems can accumulate into long term issues that are difficult to reverse. Alcohol can cause serious brain deficits that alcoholics deal with even long after they have become sober.
Short Term and Long Term Memory
There is no question that alcohol changes the functioning of the brain and can damage memory. Anyone who has ever drunk too much alcohol has experienced the blurred vision, difficulty walking, slurred speech and short term memory loss.
When someone experiences a blackout they will have no recollection what they said or did while they were drinking and very little memory of the night before. These effects can seem harmless to the casual drinker because they are temporary and do not seem to change the way the brain functions when they are sober.
For an alcoholic, however, these blackouts and periods of memory lapse can become more frequent as their drinking gets out of control. The effects of heaving drinking on their brain will eventually accumulate into more serious problems.
Consuming alcohol regularly for many years continually damages nerve cells that can affect the brain's cognitive functions including memory. Ultimately alcoholism can lead to debilitating illnesses due to this type of brain damage.
Brain Disorders and Alcoholism
Short term effects on memory after a night of drinking may not seem so serious but when heavy drinkers begin to struggle with creating new memories or recalling more recent long term memories it can be a dangerous sign. The lifestyle of alcoholism as well as the alcohol itself can both contribute to significant brain damage and persistent changes in the functioning abilities of the brain.
Alcoholism often leads to poor diet and nutritional deficiencies that can cause serious health problems. About 80 percent of alcoholics have a deficiency in thiamine or vitamin B1 which is an essential nutrient required by the brain.
When an alcoholic suffers from thiamine deficiency for many years as a result of their lifestyle, they can develop serious brain disorders such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This disorder is often characterized by persistent learning and memory problems as well as mental confusion and difficulty with muscle coordination.
The memory issues associated with this disease mainly involve an inability to form new memories although some patients may also struggle with remembering old information. Not all alcoholics develop this disease but it is common for them to show symptoms of brain damage and issues with learning and memory even after becoming sober.
While alcohol's long term effects on memory may be difficult to reverse, many people show improvement after becoming permanently abstinent. Patients with Wernicke-Korsakoff require a combination of abstinence and regular doses of thiamine to see improvement in their condition.
The average alcoholic without a serious brain disorder can begin to see some improvement in brain structure and functioning within a year of being abstinent. Studies have shown that alcoholics can still experience the growth of new brain cells to help replace the ones that have been damaged by alcohol.
Although a life of alcohol abuse can cause serious memory loss problems, treatment and sobriety can help repair some of the damage.