Alcoholism is a serious disease in the United States. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 15.1 million adults aged 18 and older have an alcohol use disorder. Of this group, less than half received treatment for their addiction.

Alcohol abuse can have a significant impact on the brain and memory. Seeking help for an addiction to alcohol can prevent brain damage and memory loss and help individuals get on the path to recovery. Vertava Health offers several programs aimed at treating alcohol use disorders and has treatment facilities throughout the United States.

How Does Alcohol Affect Memory?

Chronic alcohol use has been proven to cause damage to the brain in many ways. While drinking in moderation will not significantly impair long-term memory, chronic alcohol abuse will disrupt or damage memory.

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows down brain functioning and neural activity. Heavy drinking alters a person’s mood, behavior, and neural functioning. Alcohol depresses the nervous system and can produce an array of cognitive impairments. If continued over an extended period of time, alcohol abuse can lead to memory loss or brain damage.

Not only does alcohol disrupt our memory storage, but it also affects brain matter. A person’s cognitive and behavioral functions are linked by the white and grey matter within our brains.

A healthy, active lifestyle will keep this brain matter performing at optimal levels. However, introducing heavy alcohol consumption into the equation will quickly destroy both grey and white matter, which can wreak havoc on memory and cognition.

Losing brain cells is a normal part of the aging process. However, consuming large quantities of alcohol will destroy brain cells at a rapid pace. The increased rate of decay will result in quicker symptoms of memory loss and dementia and will affect a person’s overall cognitive functions.

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Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol Abuse On Memory

A person who drinks heavily even once can experience the short-term effects of alcohol on his or her body and memory. Typically, the body metabolizes one standard drink of alcohol per hour. When someone exceeds this amount, his or her blood alcohol content raises with each drink and taxes the liver’s ability to process the toxin.

Short-term side effects of heavy alcohol consumption on a person’s memory and cognition may include:

  • trouble concentrating or focusing
  • slurred speech
  • loss of coordination
  • loss of critical judgment
  • mood swings
  • blackouts
  • amnesia

The most significant effect of short-term heavy drinking is the risk of a blackout. During a blackout, a person loses the ability to form short-term memories. While he or she may continue to act awake and alert, there will be little to no memory of the blackout period.

There are two types of blackouts: partial blackouts and complete blackouts. During a partial blackout, a person may be unable to recall things like the names of people or other information that should be readily available. A complete blackout is when a person is unable to recall memories from the segment of a time a person is in the blackout.

When a person blacks out, he or she is essentially experiencing a type of amnesia. Blacking out can be very dangerous and put individuals at an increased risk of injury and even death.

Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol Abuse On Memory

The short-term effects on your body from drinking alcohol dissipate as the toxin leaves the body. Unfortunately, the long-term effects are not so easy to dismiss. When a person continues to drink a high volume of alcohol for extended periods, the toxin begins to slowly destroy the body. If not stopped, alcohol can critically affect a person’s mental and physical faculties.

Long-term side effects of heavy alcohol consumption on memory and cognition may include:

  • nerve damage
  • long-term memory loss
  • permanent brain damage
  • diminished grey matter in the brain
  • stroke

Additionally, long-term heavy drinking can also cause Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a severe cognitive condition directly related to the effects of alcohol on memory. This condition develops as a result of a vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency in the brain. Chronic alcohol consumption can prevent the body and brain from absorbing this vitamin.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome can have severe symptoms and can even be fatal if not treated properly. This condition can also result in permanent damage to the brain that affects a person’s memory and cognition.

Alcohol-Related Brain Damage

Repeated blackouts are a clear sign of excessive drinking and potential memory and cognitive impairment. Additionally, blackouts can result in alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD). ARBD is a condition that can cause permanent problems with memory learning and cognition.

Warning signs that someone may have ARBD include:

  • poor judgment
  • difficulty making decisions
  • lack of insight
  • confusion about time and place
  • impaired attention and concentration
  • difficulty learning and processing new information
  • inability to screen out irrelevant information
  • loss of motivation and initiative
  • apathy, depression, anger, or irritability
  • poor balance or unsteady on the feet

If you or someone you know experiences any of the above symptoms, it might be time to reach out to a specialist at Vertava Health.

Getting Help For Alcohol Abuse And Addiction

The effects that alcohol has on memory are just a few of the many long-term health symptoms that present itself from alcohol abuse. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to alcohol, getting help is the best possible thing you can do to prevent the damage that alcohol inflicts on the brain.

Because alcohol can be challenging to stop alone, many people will need to participate in a formal treatment program to overcome their addiction. Fortunately, Vertava Health provides highly successful and personalized treatment programs for those who need help with alcohol addiction.

Our treatment facilities offer a comprehensive model of care, which includes both traditional and alternative therapies. Patients who attend our treatment centers can benefit from some of the following treatment methodologies:

  • medical detoxification
  • dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • medication-assisted therapy (MAT)
  • dual diagnosis treatment
  • alternative therapy
  • wilderness therapy
  • gender-specific therapy
  • behavioral counseling
  • group counseling

Many of these treatment options are offered at our inpatient rehab centers. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction, don’t wait until you begin to experience memory-altering effects on your brain.

To learn more about the effects of alcohol on memory and to get help for alcohol addiction, contact one of our treatment specialists today.