Alcohol Makes You Forget? Nah. It Might Actually Improve Memory In Some Drinkers

I’m pretty sure everyone reading this has experienced the effects that alcohol can have on memory. Maybe you drank the night before an exam and aced it. Or maybe you drank the night after an exam and lost all of that knowledge you worked so hard to retain.

Conventional wisdom and a ton of supporting science indicate that alcohol has negative effects on memory. However, a new study claims that social drinking might actually be good for memory. The study found that social drinkers actually retained information learned before they started drinking better than social drinkers who didn’t drink at all. Furthermore, the study found that memory improved the MORE they drank.

The study was done at the University of Exeter, and people all classified as ‘social drinkers’ were broken out into two groups. Each group was given a word-learning exercise. Afterward, one group was told they were allowed to drink and the other group was told not to drink. What the researchers found was the group that drank retained more of what they’d learned the previous day than the sober group. And participants actually performed better on the memory learning task the more they’d drank after the experiment.

Professor Celia Morgan, who led the study, said: ‘Our research not only showed that those who drank alcohol did better when repeating the word-learning task, but that this effect was stronger among those who drank more.
‘The causes of this effect are not fully understood, but the leading explanation is that alcohol blocks the learning of new information and therefore the brain has more resources available to lay down other recently learned information into long-term memory.
‘The theory is that the hippocampus – the brain area really important in memory – switches to “consolidating” memories, transferring from short into longer-term memory.’
While this effect has been seen in laboratory-based studies before, this is the first time it has been tested in a natural setting, with participants drinking at home. (via TheDailyMail)

Does this mean you should get hammered the night before a big exam or presentation? No, it does not. We’re talking about ‘social drinking’ here, not ‘blacking out like there’s no tomorrow’ drinking.

Researchers are suggesting that the reason this is happening is that drinking alcohol after the learning exercise blocks the retention of new information. Meaning that participants drinking aren’t learning anything new/remembering what happened while they were drinking, so the brain is able to use those resources to commit the previously learned information to the long-term memory. You can read more about this study over on the Daily Mail.