Alcoholism and Short-Term Memory Loss - Rehab Guide
effects of alcohol on memory

Alcoholism and Short-Term Memory Loss

The memory loss associated with alcohol use

Below, we explain the short and long-term effects of alcohol on memory. As you may already know, alcohol can have some detrimental effects on your health, especially your brain. 

Not only can it be scary to have missing pieces of your memory, but you might’ve also made risky decisions while under the influence. With long-term alcohol abuse, it can have more serious consequences too.

The Short-Term Effects on Memory

Short-term memory loss occurs with a blackout. This happens because you drink a large quantity of in a short amount of time.

Blackouts usually happen when your blood alcohol level (BAC) exceeds 0.15. For most people, this is around 5 drinks.

You suffer memory loss when drinking because the nerve activity in your hippocampus slows down. This hinders your ability to form and maintain new memories.

The amount of memory loss will depend on the person’s genetics, how much they’ve had to drink, how quickly they’ve drunk and their tolerance level. For some, they’ll forget just little pieces of the night, while for others, they can’t remember the entire evening.

As these memory losses occur, victims become increasingly fearful, bewildered, and depressed. With the progression of the disease, memory losses become more frequent and unpredictable. Anxieties begin to mount. (“What did I do last night after ten o’clock?” “Where did I leave the car?” “Who was I with?” “Where did I hide that bottle?”)

The Long-Term Effects on Memory

When you binge drink once or twice, this will slow down your hippocampus. But if drinking heavily is a regular thing, then you can end up damaging your hippocampus too.

This is because you’re essentially killing the nerve cells in your brain. As a result, you’ll have issues with both short and long-term memory.

Studies have shown that drinking excessively can affect teenagers’ everyday memory.


While repression results in forgetfulness similar to that caused by a blackout, it is psychologically rather than chemically induced.

Over time, a person with an alcohol problem will develop the ability to repress unwanted, shameful memories.

They will shut them out of their minds. They proceed to justify some of their behaviours (those they can bear to face), and they suppress those they cannot rationalize.

None of us wants to recall the memory of every shameful or embarrassing moment we’ve experienced during our lives. When someone with an alcohol problem represses a memory, it is because their actions that caused the pain and shame have occurred more than once and are likely to recur and worsen over time.

Alcohol Abuse and Euphoric Recall

The third component of the delusional system may be the most devastating; it is certainly the most difficult to comprehend and accept. Drugs of abuse can create very rewarding memories. All of us have some familiarity with repression. But euphoric recall seems patently incredible!

It makes it impossible for chemically dependent people to evaluate their current condition accurately while under the influence. They really don’t know that they can’t do everything they’re capable of doing under ordinary circumstances. Their subsequent memories of the experience are tied to the inability to evaluate their condition. And those distorted memories are implicitly trusted.

The next day, they remember how they felt, but not how they behaved. They have no memory whatsoever of slurred words, exaggerated gestures, or the fact that they wove around the room.

Thiamine Deficiency

One of the long-term effects of alcohol on the brain is thiamine deficiency. We’ll explain more on this in this next section.

Did you know that up to 80% of alcoholics have a thiamine deficiency?

Thiamine (also known as vitamin B1) is a key vitamin linked to your metabolism. With alcoholics, they have 2 factors that make them more susceptible to thiamine deficiency:

  1. They have poor diets.
  2. They have inflammation in their gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Considering inflammation in the GI tract affects your ability to absorb nutrients, this combined with a poor diet makes alcoholics incredibly likely to have vitamin deficiencies.

thiamine deficiency comes with symptoms such as:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irritability
  • Water retention

If you experience any of the above symptoms or any other strange ones, make sure you see a doctor promptly.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) can result from a thiamine deficiency. While this can happen from malnutrition, it often occurs as a side effect of alcoholism.

WKS is considered a neurological disorder, consisting of Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s dementia. The first leads to the second.

In the beginning, some noticeable symptoms are a red “beefy” tongue and changes in the skin. More advanced symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Amnesia
  • Decreased muscle coordination
  • Paralysis of eye nerves

A CT scan will also reveal that there are changes in the brain, such as lesions and swollen ventricles.

If the disease progresses to the Korsakoff’s dementia part, then it’s not reversible. This is why it’s crucial that you catch this syndrome in its early stages, as Wernicke’s encephalopathy can be reversed.

Memory and Aging Effects

When it comes to drinking, an older person will be more susceptible to both the short and long-term effects alcohol can have on the body. There are several reasons why.

For one, many will already have deteriorating hippocampus cells; 5-8% of seniors over 60 develop dementia, this can not only speed up memory loss, but also the onset of dementia.

In addition, many are taking prescription medications to manage their health issues. Unfortunately, many of these medicines have adverse interactions with alcohol, which can also make memory loss and other symptoms significantly worse.

Alcohol and Memory Loss Recovery

The good news is, there’s a promising medication that can be used to treat alcohol-related dementia: memantine. Memantine was originally created to treat Alzheimer’s disease, but it has great potential to help those with conditions like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

If your symptoms aren’t too bad, you can also quit drinking and adding more thiamine to your diet. Foods rich in thiamine include fish and other seafood, pork, tofu, nuts, beans, brown rice, green peas, asparagus. You can also take supplements or get an IV.

If you’re suffering memory loss when drunk, the next best step is to go to alcohol rehab. Not only can they help you detox comfortably and safely, but the professionals there can also assist you in identifying your drinking triggers and teach you constructive methods to deal with them.

Avoid Memory Loss and Seek Professional Treatment

As you can see, there are many short and long-term effects of alcohol on memory, as well as your overall health. Not only that, but dependence can also cause issues in your daily life and interpersonal relationships.

While it might be difficult to admit you have a problem, that’s the first and most important step. Once you’ve acknowledged your issue, the rest of the journey to sobriety will quickly fall into place.

So do yourself a favour and seek treatment. With the help of professionals, you can turn your life around and make vast improvements.

If you’re ready to hear more about addiction rehab, please get in touch with us now. Our staff is standing by, ready to give you free advice.



Author 'Jason


Jason has been writing expert articles and blog posts on issues related to addiction and mental health for Rehab Guide. Jason has a BA in Psychology, a Masters of Social Work and is currently working on his doctorate in social work.


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