Symptoms such as blurred vision and slower reaction times are a good indication on the effect alcohol has on a person’s brain. However, the Virginia Tech website believes the effects of alcohol on your memory are much more serious. While complete memory loss is rare, short-term memory loss and blackouts are common among people who drink regularly. Research presented by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reveals that people who drink heavily are much more likely to experience retrospective memory loss, which is the acknowledgement, retention, and retrieval of previous data and events. While everyone suffers from a loss of memory at some stage, heavy drinkers are likely to make bigger mistakes on a much more regular basis.


According to the NIAAA, alcohol interferes with the brain’s development of new memories. This means people who drink heavily are more likely to forget anything that happened during the time they were drinking but will remember events before it. This is known as an alcohol-induced blackout. There are two different types of blackouts: one known as an en-bloc and the other a fragmentary episode. An en-bloc blackout is when people forget everything they did during the time of alcohol consumption. A fragmentary blackout is not as serious as an en-bloc; while people can still forget events, they do usually retain some memory.

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The Risks

Because alcohol can affect the memory, a person who drinks heavily is more likely to display risk behaviors. Someone who suffers blackouts or even short-term memory loss because of alcohol is also at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, as well as getting into fights or aggressive confrontations. Individuals who have suffered a blackout will remember nothing of their behavior the morning after or even at all. Individuals who suffer blackouts on a regular basis should seek advice from a medical professional. Not only are frequent blackouts an indication of problem drinking, the alcohol’s effect on the memory could lead to more serious issues, such as brain damage.

Memory Loss from Drinking

An NIAAA study found that most cases of memory loss occurred because of binge drinking, or drinking large quantities of alcohol very quickly. This causes their blood alcohol levels to shoot up rapidly. Binge drinking is recognized as the consumption of five or more standard drinks in any two-hour period, says the NIAAA. Binge drinking is prevalent among youngsters, mainly students, who are encouraged to drink large amounts of alcohol by their friends. Young people who are alcohol dependent may experience poor school performance due to the memory loss associated with binge drinking.

Alcohol and Memory Loss Prevention

The only way to prevent blackouts or serious memory loss is to be responsible when drinking alcohol. This means sticking to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommended alcohol limit, which is one drink a day for women and two a day for men. This is based on a 24-hour period and is not the average worked out over seven days. Unfortunately, memory loss is not reversible, but there is treatment available for those people who believe they have a problem with drink. As part of a doctor’s initial assessment, he or she will do an assortment of neurological tests, which will determine whether any brain damage has occurred and how serious it may be. Medically supervised detoxification can help deal with the physical withdrawals from alcohol, and therapy will manage the person’s psychological dependency. A therapist will work with individuals dependent on drinking, helping them address and acknowledge their addiction. In some cases, where a person has been heavily dependent on alcohol for a long period of time, there may be some long-lasting effects to the person’s memory. This may mean the person struggles to learn new things, as well as experience problems remembering details such as birthdays and other important dates. The effects of alcohol on your memory may also change the way your brain processes certain actions and events.

If you or someone you know is struggling from alcohol abuse, please call our free helpline for further information and to explore your options.