Heavy alcohol consumption makes it more difficult to build new memories.
Binge drinking not only makes you forget what you did the night before but also the day before that – and the day before that, a study suggests. Researchers have found that a big night out destroys long term memory even in young adults.
They believe that heavy alcohol consumption makes it more difficult to build new memories because the hippocampus, an area at the centre of the brain, which plays a key role in learning and memory, is very susceptible to its poisonous effects.
It is a particularly worrying finding as binge drinking is a growing problem in Britain and other European countries – particularly in the young and those at university.
The Spanish study of university students found binge drinking affects declarative memory – a form of long-term memory – with the undergraduates showing a reduction in ability to learn new information given to them verbally.
On a sliding scale they scored lower in two tests designed to see how much knowledge they retained and recalled.
Researcher Dr Maria Parada at the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela said: “In northern European countries, there is a strong tradition of a sporadic, drunkenness-orientated, drinking style.
“In contrast, countries on the Mediterranean coast, such as Spain, have traditionally been characterised by a more regular consumption of low doses of alcohol.
“In recent years, the pattern of binge drinking among young people has become more widespread throughout Europe, hence the growing concern about this issue.
“I think it´s important to examine alcohol´s effects on the hippocampus because in animal studies, particularly in rats and monkeys, this region appears sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol, and this structure plays a main role in memory and learning
“In other words, binge drinking could affect memory of young adults, which might affect their day-to day lives.
The study examined 122 Spanish university students aged 18 to 20 years of age divided into two groups – those who engaged in binge drinking and those that abstained.
They were then subjected to a neuropsychological assessment which included recalling visual and verbal experiences.
Dr Parada said: “Our main finding was a clear association between binge drinking and a lower ability to learn new verbal information in healthy college students, even after controlling for other possible confounding variables such as intellectual levels, history of neurological or psychopathological disorders, other drug use, or family history of alcoholism.
“Whereas most attention has focused on negative consequences such as traffic accidents, violence or public disorder, society and students themselves are unaware of the damaging effects binge drinking may have on the brain.
The findings are published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
Photo credit: The Health Age