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Alcohol and Memory Loss Risk

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

March 22, 2024

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The abuse of alcohol and memory loss can be interrelated. Alcohol memory loss may manifest in the short-term and long-term. That said, there are several strategies you can employ to help mitigate the risk of memory loss from alcohol.

Does Alcohol Affect Memory?

Alcohol can impact brain function and memory. Excessive consumption of alcohol can trigger adverse effects on memory in both the short-term and long-term. Heavy drinking in the short-term can lead to alcohol-induced blackouts and memory lapses while intoxicated.

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Over the long term, sustained heavy drinking can result in persistent memory loss. To make more informed and healthier life decisions, read on and discover more about drinking and memory loss.

How Does Alcohol Affect Memory?

Alcohol can impair short-term memory by triggering blackouts, a form of short-term memory loss. There are two distinct types of alcohol-induced blackouts. The first, and more common type, is known as a fragmentary blackout. This type of blackout is characterized by incomplete memories or scattered recollection of events. Individuals may recall certain moments from the time they were drinking but may struggle to piece together the entire sequence of events. The second type, referred to as an en bloc blackout, involves a complete loss of memory for several hours.

In cases of fragmentary blackouts, it’s sometimes possible to recover lost memories with cues or reminders about the events that occurred. For en bloc blackouts, though, the chances of recovering these lost memories are slim.

Chronic alcohol misuse over a prolonged period can provoke more enduring memory issues. Although the exact mechanism linking alcohol misuse to cognitive decline or dementia isn’t wholly understood, there is a known association between alcohol abuse and certain forms of cognitive deterioration, including dementia. Symptoms of dementia may include memory loss, as well as confusion, difficulty with daily tasks, language challenges, mood swings, hallucinations, and delusions.

Reducing alcohol consumption is believed to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Another condition linked to long-term alcohol abuse is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is the concurrent presence of Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. These conditions can stem from the combined effects of alcohol-related brain damage and a deficiency in vitamin B1 (thiamine), which is essential for cell growth, development, and function. Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to poor nutrition and reduced thiamine absorption, potentially resulting in a deficiency. Without intervention, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome can progress to cause irreversible memory loss and even become fatal.

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What to Do if You’re Having Memory Problems from Drinking

Many people are able to consume alcohol in moderation without significantly impacting their memory over time. However, if your alcohol consumption exceeds guidelines for moderate drinking and you’re concerned about alcoholism and memory loss, consider reducing your intake to address both issues head-on.

To prevent alcohol-induced blackouts, here are some strategies for moderating your consumption while still enjoying social events:

  • Establish a reasonable limit for alcohol consumption for the evening.
  • Eat a big meal before starting to drink.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water before and between alcoholic beverages.
  • Arrange for a taxi home in advance to ensure that you have a fixed time to return.
  • Hold your drink with your non-dominant hand to make the act of drinking more deliberate, increasing your awareness of your consumption.
  • Plan your drinks in advance and visualize the progression of your evening. This preparation can help you maintain control and enjoy the night as you intended.

In a broader sense, reducing your alcohol intake is beneficial for maintaining optimal brain and memory function. Try the following approaches to cut back if you have struggled to moderate consumption:

  • Gradually decrease the frequency of your drinking days, such as limiting alcohol to weekends only. This method can quickly lower your overall consumption without increasing intake on the days you do drink.
  • Encourage friends and family to participate in activities that don’t involve alcohol. Opting for social gatherings where alcohol is not the focus can help you stay engaged without the temptation to drink.
  • Explore relaxation techniques as alternatives to alcohol for stress relief. Practices such as mindfulness, breathing exercises, and meditation offer effective ways to relax and manage stress.

The connection between alcohol consumption and memory impairment is among the various issues that can stem from excessive drinking. Consuming alcohol long-term leads to the development of tolerance and dependence. Someone who is dependent on alcohol requires the substance to function normally and experiences withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation. Dependence often but not always leads to addiction (alcohol use disorder). If you are dependent on alcohol or you believe that you have alcohol use disorder, the process of rehabilitation involves a combination of medications, talk therapies, and counseling. Read on to learn how you can achieve this.


How quickly does alcohol cause memory loss?

Alcohol can cause memory loss within minutes if consumption is in large quantities, leading to blackouts where the person cannot remember events that occurred while they were intoxicated. Chronic heavy drinking can lead to more persistent memory problems due to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol on the brain, especially on regions involved in memory.

Does alcoholism affect memory irreversibly?

The effects of alcoholism on memory can be partially reversible. Abstinence from alcohol can lead to some improvement in memory functions, but prolonged heavy drinking can cause permanent damage, leading to lasting deficits in learning and memory.

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Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

If your health is suffering due to alcohol abuse, you are not alone. Reach out to Renaissance Recovery in Southern California and take advantage of personalized and evidence-based treatment for alcohol addiction.

We can refer you to reputable medical detox centers near you, enabling you to withdraw from alcohol as comfortably and safely as possible. After addressing physical dependence on alcohol, you will be ready to participate in ongoing outpatient treatment at our rehab facility in Huntington Beach, CA.

During intensive outpatient treatment at Renaissance, you can access the following therapies tailored to your needs and the severity of your alcohol addiction:

To begin your recovery from alcohol addiction right away, call admissions at 866.330.9449.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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