Alcohol Slows Down Brain Function

Can Alcohol Affect Your Memory?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a serious disease in America. In fact, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports, in 2019, nearly 15 million people age 12 and up had AUD. Unfortunately, less than half of these people received treatment for their drinking.

Alcohol misuse can significantly impact your brain and memory. However, the longer you drink and the more you consume, the more severe and lasting the effects of alcohol on memory. But, seeking treatment can help with alcoholism and memory loss. Sana Lake offers personalized programs to help you achieve recovery from alcohol and memory loss.

Alcohol and Memory Loss

Alcohol-Related Brain Damage

The brain is a delicate organ that must be chemically balanced to function correctly. But, alcohol interrupts this balance. While occasional or “social” drinking can affect short-term memory, heavy drinking can lead to long-term damage and memory loss.

Alcohol Slows Down Brain Function

Alcohol is a depressant. In short,  it slows down brain activity. In heavy drinkers, alcohol can alter a person’s mood and behavior. Alcohol also slows down the nervous system, causing various cognitive impairments. At the same time, long-term heavy alcohol misuse can lead to brain damage and memory loss.

Alcohol Affects Brain Matter

Alcohol not only interferes with memory loss, but also affects the physical makeup of the brain. The white and grey matter in the brain are linked to behavioral and cognitive functions. However, heavy alcohol misuse destroys white and grey matter leading to permanent memory loss. 

Alcohol, Age, and Brain Cells

Although we all lose brain cells as we age, heavy alcohol misuse increases the destruction. As a result, a person may experience earlier symptoms of memory loss and dementia. However, stopping alcohol use and creating a brain-healthy lifestyle can slow the progression.

Alcohol and Short-Term Memory Loss

When people drink too much, they often blackout and don’t remember details. However, during a blackout, a person may be awake and alert. The details can be minor such as, where their keys are. But, they can also forget the whole night, which is a big issue. 

Short-term side effects of heavy alcohol misuse include:

  • Trouble focusing
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired judgment
  • Lack of coordination
  • Mood swings
  • Blackouts

What is a Blackout?

Can Alcohol Affect Your Memory?

The NIAAA defines alcohol-related blackouts as gaps in a person’s memory during times of intoxication. These gaps happen because, at certain intoxication levels, alcohol blocks the transfer of memories to an area of the brain called the hippocampus.

There are two types of blackouts. With a partial blackout, things like people’s names and other minor details cannot be recalled. A complete blackout is the inability to recall batches of time. Blacking out is extremely dangerous and increases the risk of injury and death.

Alcohol and Memory Loss Long-Term

While alcohol slows the hippocampus, heavy drinking causes long-term damage. For example, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a severe cognitive disorder, is related directly to the effects of alcohol on memory. It develops because of a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency related to drinking alcohol. 

Chronic misuse of alcohol stops the brain and the body from absorbing this much-needed vitamin. Without proper treatment, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome can lead to dementia and may even be fatal.

Long-term effects of chronic alcohol misuse include:

Alcohol-Related Brain Damage

Chronic heavy alcohol misuse often leads to repeated blackouts. Additionally, these repeated blackouts can cause alcohol-related brain damage or ARBD. This condition is the direct effect of alcohol on memory and causes permanent damage.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol-related brain damage include:

  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Poor judgment
  • Lack of insight
  • Confusion about time and place
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty processing new information
  • Lack of motivation
  • Mood swings
  • Poor balance and coordination

Symptoms of Alcohol and Short-Term Memory Loss

Some effects of alcohol on memory are obvious. Individuals may wake up and not remember how they got a bruise. Or, they can’t recall anything from the night before. However, some effects of alcoholism and memory loss are subtle. 

Individuals that identify with any of the following should know they may be struggling with the short-term effects of alcohol and memory loss.

  • Forgetting making plans with a friend or family member
  • Being easily confused about where they are
  • Paying attention has become a struggle for them
  • They don’t remember things they did while drinking
  • They are in legal trouble but don’t remember what they did.

Long-Term Symptoms of Alcoholism and Memory Loss

The longer a person misuses alcohol, the more damage is done to the brain and memory. But, chronic heavy misuse of alcohol can have long-term damaging effects. If you or a loved one displays any of these symptoms, they may be struggling with the long-term effects of alcohol on memory.

  • They make up stories to fill in the gaps from alcohol and memory loss. This is called confabulation and is often seen in those with Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.
  • Their personality changes are becoming noticeable. They are angry, frustrated, and often withdrawn. 
  • They repeatedly ask the same questions.
  • They have difficulty learning new things, such as playing a game. 

Treatment of Alcohol and Memory Loss

There isn’t much anyone can do to recall events from a night of heavy drinking. However, there are treatments to improve the effects of alcohol on memory. 

  • Thiamine supplements can help alleviate symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which is a result of thiamine deficiency.
  • Certain medications such as memantine, used in Alzheimer’s treatment, may improve memory loss from alcoholism. 
  • Attending alcohol use disorder treatment can reverse the effects of alcohol on memory. Stopping alcohol consumption can cause mild to severe withdrawal symptoms. So, for safety reasons, alcohol use disorder should always be treated in a professional setting.

What is Detoxing from Alcohol?

Alcohol-Related Brain Damage

Detoxing from alcohol is the natural process of the body ridding itself of toxins such as those from chronic alcohol misuse. However, it’s not recommended to go through detox alone at home. Because alcohol withdrawal can cause severe side effects, it is recommended to detox in a substance use disorder treatment center.

Symptoms of alcohol detox include:

  • Feeling nervous or anxious
  • Feeling irritable
  • Depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Tremors or shakiness
  • Sweating 
  • Headache
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Extreme confusion
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure

Medical Detox at Sana Lake: The First Step in Recovery

People struggling with alcohol use disorder often find it challenging to stop drinking. Besides the compulsive patterns of alcohol misuse, the withdrawal symptoms from detoxing can often be severe. Withdrawal can also amplify the effects of alcohol and memory loss. 

However, at Sana Lake, we offer comprehensive medical detox to make the process more comfortable. Additionally, our medical detox program kick starts your recovery with psychotherapy to ease the mental struggles of detox.

Psychotherapy for Alcohol Misuse

Alcohol use disorder often leads to co-occurring mental health disorders. At the same time, mental health disorders can lead to alcohol use disorder. Either way, the effects can lead to challenging behavior and thought patterns. 

The mental challenges of alcohol detox often cause people to return to drinking. However, starting psychotherapy can ease cravings and the mental struggles that lead them to drink. 

Psychotherapy at Sana Lake can help you start:

  • Developing ways to cope with cravings in a healthy manner
  • Managing stress without alcohol
  • Discovering and building your inner strengths
  • Uncovering and healing past and present traumas

Medication-Assisted Treatment in Medical Detox

Depending on the individual and the severity of the effects of alcohol on memory, FDA-approved medications may help in the recovery process. Benzodiazepines or benzos such as Ativan, Librium, and Valium can reduce withdrawal symptoms and prevent alcohol withdrawal seizures. However, these drugs are also highly addictive and should be closely monitored.

Detox is Just the Beginning of Recovery at San Lake

Completing a medical detox program is only the beginning of treating alcoholism and memory loss. Together with your therapist, you will develop an individualized treatment plan that includes inpatient or outpatient treatment. Recovery is a lifelong journey, and therapy helps build the skills needed to achieve an alcohol-free life. 

Programs at Sana Lake include:

Alcohol and Short-Term Memory Loss Treatment at Sana Lake

Struggling with the effects of alcohol on your memory can be difficult. Is the stress of not remembering things is causing you to drink more? Maybe you have an older family member struggling with alcoholism and memory loss but need help talking to them. 

If any of this sounds familiar to you, it may be time to seek alcohol and memory loss treatment. Our compassionate team is waiting to answer all your questions and get you on the road to recovery. Contact us today to learn more. 

References: 

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.