Alcohol and Memory Loss
A variety of health problems are associated with alcohol abuse, including heart disease, liver damage and an increased risk of cancer. Alcohol also can damage the brain, especially the area of the brain that forms memories. Long-term memories may not be affected, but the brain's ability to form new memories can be impaired. Memory loss is one of most serious indicators that alcohol recovery is needed.
Three types of memory loss are associated with alcohol abuse. The term brownout is used to describe memory fragmentation that can occur following an episode of drinking. The drinker may be able to remember some events but will have forgotten others. This memory loss is sometimes temporary and may be restored when another person provides information that triggers the drinker's memory.
Blackout describes a complete loss of memory following a drinking episode. Unlike a brownout, the memories from a blackout will never be restored because they were never processed by the portion of the brain that stores long-term memories. This alcohol-induced amnesia is often caused by binge drinking and is an early indicator of alcoholism. A blackout is a traumatic experience that leaves the drinker feeling embarrassed, vulnerable and exposed.
Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to a condition known as alcohol dementia which is similar to Alzheimer's disease. In addition to memory loss, the symptoms of this condition include confusion, impaired judgment, an inability to perform routine tasks and marked personality changes. Some forms of alcohol dementia can even cause an individual to form false memories, recalling events that never occurred.
To avoid nerve and brain damage from alcohol abuse, individuals who experience blackouts should consider alcohol treatment. If alcohol recovery takes place when alcohol-related memory loss is first experienced, it is possible to reverse the damage. Memories lost during blackouts will never return, but the ability to form new memories will be restored.