Alcohol may improve memory about information learned before the drinking session began, a new study from University of Exeter in Britain has claimed. The researchers are, however, keen to stress that this limited positive effect should be considered alongside the well-established negative effects of excessive alcohol on memory and mental and physical health.
Although the cause of this effect is not yet known, the researchers explained 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,” said Celia Morgan, Professor at University of Exeter in a paper published in Nature journal Scientific Reports.
For the study, 88 social drinkers (31 males and 57 females, aged 18-53) were given a word-learning task.
Participants were then split in two groups at random and told either to drink as much as they liked (the average was four units) or not to drink at all.
The next day, they all did the same task again — and those who had drunk alcohol remembered more of what they had learned.
“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,” Morgan said.
In a second task, the participants were asked to look at images on a screen.
This task was completed once after the drinkers had drunk alcohol and again the following day, and the results did not reveal significant differences in memory performance post-drinking.