Most of us are probably familiar with the unpleasant sensation of waking up the morning after the night before and having no recollection of what sordid things we got up to, but can alcoholism cause memory loss on a more permanent basis and how exactly does excessive alcohol consumption affect the memory centres of the brain?
Can alcoholism cause memory loss?
Numerous scientific studies have proven the link between alcoholism and memory problems and it is not uncommon to experience a memory “blackout” after a period of heavy drinking. The results of research indicate that the brain finds is harder to transfer short term memories and experiences into the long term memory vaults when a person is inebriated, so by this definition, a person suffering from alcoholism will inevitably experience problems with short term memory loss during bouts of heavy drinking.
Interestingly, it is not only long term heavy drinkers who have problems with their short term memory and blackouts; binge drinking can have much the same effect on the brain. There is some evidence to suggest that how fast you consume alcohol rather than how much alcohol is consumed over the same period plays a bigger part, as a sharp increase in blood alcohol concentration can lead to blackouts and periods of short term memory loss.
Are there different levels of memory loss in patients suffering from alcoholism?
Fragmented memory loss is the first stage of memory problems in those suffering from alcoholism. The patient will typically experience short periods of memory loss after heaving drinking sessions, but can usually recall most of their memories if prompted.
The more serious stage of memory loss is a total and complete blackout. The patient may go drinking heavily for several days and then have no memory whatsoever of their drinking session. This occurs when the brain cannot complete the short term memory process and nothing is transferred to long term memory.
Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome – can alcoholism cause memory loss?
When excessive drinking takes place over several years or longer, a disease called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome can develop. This is a form of dementia caused by excessive drinking and is characterised by nerve damage in the central nervous system as a result of low levels of thiamine. Cognitive abilities are affected in patients with Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome and memory loss is one of the main symptoms with alcoholics often making up elaborate stories to cover the fact they are suffering from impaired memory and memory blackouts.
What is the treatment for alcohol related memory loss?
The most obvious way to treat alcohol related memory loss is for the patient to stop drinking. Memory problems caused by drinking in the short term will normally disappear once the patient has stopped drinking, although the effects can last up to twelve weeks, but for patients with alcoholism, the damage caused can often be permanent. However, there is evidence to suggest that some memory function remains unaffected by the effects of heavy drinking over a long period of time, so there is hope for patients with suffering the effects of long term alcoholism.