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Alcohol Increases Positive Memories and Weakens Negative Ones

Posted in Alcoholism

“What happened last night?” “Oh, man, I hope I didn’t do anything embarrassing.” “How did I get home?” These are common questions asked by heavy drinkers the morning after a drinking session. We’ve understood for some time now that alcohol decreases the brain’s ability to form new memories, but we now also know that of the remembered events, many more positive memories are recalled than negative ones. This helps explain why many people remember the happy moments of socializing with friends while drinking but not the negative, often embarrassing events that happen later in the drinking session.

Researchers at the University of Sussex have found that alcohol influences the brain’s ability to form memories, making memories before a drink stronger and memories of things that happen while under the influence weaker. Professor Theodora Duka of the department of experimental psychology at Sussex said that while it’s not entirely clear how alcohol changes the way memories are made, it could be altering the neurotransmitters that form memories.

In Professor Duka’s study, she asked volunteers to recall a series of images when they had been given either an alcoholic drink or a non-alcoholic drink. The findings showed that alcohol increased the memory for images seen before taking the drink and impaired memory for the images seen after taking the drink. The volunteers were also more likely to remember the images they saw before taking a drink if the images triggered strong emotions such as joy, but were less likely to remember emotional images viewed after drinking.

“This bias towards positive memories means that people are more likely to drink heavily the next time they go out because they only remember the good memories about the last time,” Duka said.

Source: Telegraph UK, Richard Gray, Why drunks forget the embarrassing things they do, September 8, 2008