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The effects of Alcohol on Memory

The alcoholic beverage that most of us call alcohol consists of an ingredient called Ethanol. This is an extremely unstable colourless liquid. It is highly flammable and is known to the world as being a depressant both physically and psychologically. This organic compound affects the ‘Central Nervous system’. The severity of the ‘depressed nervous system’ depends on the concentration of the alcohol within the blood stream. It is proportional so the higher the concentration of alcohol in the blood, the more the central nervous system becomes depressed. This can explain the assortment of different psychological stages that one goes through during a night of heavy binge drinking.

Memory can be described as a vital ability to store, retain and retrieve information from different areas of the brain. This capability could be highly affected by the ingestion of alcohol. Memory consists of two main parts. The first part is known as the ‘Short-term memory’ (STM). STM can be described as the ability to hold small amounts of information in an active, readily available state for a short period of time. This can be highly affected by alcohol as even the smallest amounts of this organic compound can prevent a person to recall information effectively. The second type of memory is called, ‘Long-term memory’ (LTM) which is described as a limitless store that can hold information anywhere between two minutes to a lifetime.

Memory loss due to alcohol can begin from the second you swallow your first mouthful. Cell membranes within the human body are extremely permeable to alcohol, so as soon as the alcohol reaches your bloodstream it diffuses into every cell.

There are many different stages that a person on an alcohol binge will go through. The first stage is known quite commonly by students at university as ‘Brown-out’. This is the mildest form of amnesia caused by alcohol consumption. Once the person arises the next morning they cannot remember what took place the night before however, with a few prompts and clues the memory slowly comes back.

The next stage is known as ‘Black out’ where even with endless clues; the person will never remember what happened the night before.

Alcohol is an extremely addictive drug and if abused can cause a horrific disease known as ‘Wernicke-Korsakoff’ syndrome. The medical term for this is called ‘Anterograde Amnesia’. It is when the person who abuses alcohol has severe memory impairment. ‘Wernicke-Korsakoff’s’ syndrome is a combination of two issues which effect the body. With alcohol abuse, lack of nutrients comes hand in hand especially lack of thiamine which itself causes damage to the peripheral and central nervous system. As most people who abuse alcohol usually neglect themselves and do not eat – just drink. This horrific type of memory loss is where the mind cannot remember anything that happens after the abuse occurs. They appear to be normal at first glance however, they repeat questions over and over again and have no capacity to retain information after the event takes place.



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