Drink To Remember: Booze May Help You Recall Things You Learned

Everybody knows too much drinking can impair your memory. (I did what last night?!) But in 2017, researchers demonstrated that alcohol can also improve your memory — at least when it comes to things you learned right before you started drinking.

The Study Made For A College Campus

In a University of Exeter study, researchers recruited 88 "social drinkers" — 31 men and 57 women — and had them learn a series of new words, then take a test to see how many they remembered. Next, half of the volunteers were randomly assigned to drink as much as they wanted. According to the study, the average (mean) amount of alcohol the volunteers drank was 82.59 grams, or nearly six drinks over the span of the evening. (That's what you get when you recruit college students for your drinking study.)

The next bleary-eyed morning, they took another test to see how many of the words they still remembered. Both groups had done equally well on the test they took before anyone started drinking, but astonishingly, the volunteers who drank actually improved their recall of the words the next morning. Another learning task they performed after the drinkers started drinking showed no differences in performance between the two groups.

Of Course, There Are Caveats

Sound like a fluke? This actually isn't the first study to demonstrate this phenomenon. In 1981, researchers demonstrated that people who drank right after studying a set of pictures in a laboratory setting remembered more of them than those who didn't drink. This was just the first study to demonstrate it in a casual setting, since the volunteers did everything in their own homes.

But why? "The causes of this effect are not fully understood, but the leading explanation is 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," says University of Exeter professor Celia Morgan. "The theory is that the hippocampus — the brain area really important in memory — switches to 'consolidating' memories, transferring from short into longer-term memory." The researchers (and we!) stress that alcohol still has plenty of negative effects — it kills 3.3 million people worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization, and it can still impair your memory for things that happen while you're drinking. Everything in moderation!

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Written by Ashley Hamer August 14, 2017

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