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Drinking While Studying: Research and Impact

Read more if you have ever questioned whether alcohol improves performance on exams or if it is just a quick way to fail a test.

Studying for exams often involves social gatherings, with classmates preparing for exams together to enhance learning and perhaps have a good time.

On college campuses, people may turn study time into a time for drinking as well. This has caused some people to question whether alcohol improves performance on exams or if it is just a quick way to fail a test.

While some research has found benefits on memory and problem-solving from drinking, other research on alcohol shows memory impairment. Regular drinking can also affect GPA, motivation to study, and health.

Should You Mix Drinking and Studying?

Some people argue that it is actually a good idea to drink alcohol while you study.

One study did find that alcohol gave participants a slight edge in creative problem-solving when they had a blood-alcohol level of approximately 0.075%. So it is possible that creativity is enhanced with moderate alcohol use.1

Others point to a recent study in Scientific Reports that demonstrated improved memory for information learned prior to alcohol use. The more participants drank, the more information they recalled from a memory task given to them the morning after drinking.2 However, other sources argue that studying and then drinking interferes with memory consolidation.3

Further, another study in the journal Alcohol found that alcohol has both acute and chronic effects on areas of the brain that correspond to learning.4 According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol can impair memory after only a few drinks, and the impairment increases the more a person drinks.5

Drinking has also been associated with poorer academic performance. In one study, college students who drank had less motivation to do well in school and cited poorer academic performance compared to their peers, particularly if they practiced heavy episodic drinking.6

Multiple other studies have shown connections between frequent drinking and lower grade point averages. In one study, students with 4.0 GPAs drank a third fewer alcoholic beverages compared to those with GPAs under 2.0.7

Other research has found that alcohol use affects study hours, with more frequent drinking associated with fewer study hours.7

Risks of Hangovers

Another risk of drinking while studying is a hangover. While you may intend to stick to moderate drinking with your study buddies, you could be in rough shape the next day if you overindulge.

Some common symptoms of a hangover include:8,9

  • Nausea.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Sweating.
  • Thirst.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Headache.
  • Dizziness.
  • Spike in heart rate and blood pressure.

A hangover could also worsen your exam performance, according to research.

A study published by Current Drug Abuse Reviews found that hangovers impair your reaction time, memory, attention, and ability to organize and plan.8 According to some sources, alcohol intoxication can affect a person’s concentration and memory for up to 48 hours.7

Given these effects, you will be less likely to ace your exam if you drink too much the night before. Imbibing the night before you study could even affect your ability to prepare for a test.

Considering Getting Help for Alcoholism?

Here are some links that can teach you more and help you get started.

Should You Drink Before an Exam?

Even if there are some mild benefits from consuming small quantities of alcohol while studying, those benefits are likely to disappear when alcohol is consumed in excess.

Not to mention that regular alcohol use can have many harmful effects on the body, including damage to the brain, heart, liver, and pancreas. It increases the risk of certain cancers and weakens the immune system, making people more prone to infection.10

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, moderate drinking is defined as 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. Consuming more than that amount can have negative consequences for your health.11

Additionally, there are people who should not consume alcohol at all, such as women who are pregnant, people with certain medical conditions or who are on certain medications, people who are in recovery from addiction, or people who are going to operate a vehicle.11

Consider all of these factors before choosing to drink while preparing for an exam.

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[1]. Jarosz, A., Colflesh, G., and Wiley, J. (2012). Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving. Consciousness and Cognition, 21(1), 487-493.

[2]. Carlyle, M. et al. (2017). Improved memory for information learnt before alcohol use in social drinkers tested in a naturalistic setting. Scientific Reports.

[3]. Schwartz, G. How Do Drugs and Alcohol Impede Students’ Academic Progress? St. Lawrence University.

[4]. Zorumski, C., Mennerick, S., and Izumi, Y. (2014). Acute and Chronic Effects of Ethanol on Learning-Related Synaptic Plasticity. Alcohol, 48(1), 1-17.

[5]. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2004). Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain. Alcohol Alert, Number 63.

[6]. Ansari, W., Stock, C., and Mills, C. (2013). Is Alcohol Consumption Associated with Poor Academic Achievement in University Students? International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 4(10), 1175-1188.

[7]. Ramapo College of New Jersey. The Impact of Alcohol on Academic Performance: Summarizing the Research.

[8]. Verster, J. et al. (2013). Hangover Research Needs: Proceedings of the 5th Alcohol Hangover Research Group Meeting. Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 6(3), 245-251.

[9]. Harvard Medical School. 7 steps to cure your hangover.

[10]. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.

[11]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health.