Drink to Remember: Alcohol Can Boost Memory Recall


Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is usually associated with blacking out and losing all recollection of what happened the night before. But is there a scenario in which drinking alcoholic beverages actually helps to increase memory of learning in an earlier setting?

According to a new study, that may be the case. Its findings showed that consuming alcohol increases recall of earlier learning from before the drinking began.

Credit: Paul Sableman/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

From two groups of 88 people, in a study performed by the University of Exeter, it was found that the group given up to four pints of alcohol remembered a word memory practice better than those who did not drink at all.

The 88 people were given the word-learning exercise prior to drinking, and then given the same task the day after drinking for a bit of time. The group that was given alcohol performed better than the group that was not.

“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,” said professor Celia Morgan. “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.”

Related: Alcohol Before Bed Actually Messes With Your Sleep

Morgan and her team theorize that the hippocampus, when affected by alcohol consumption, switches from short-term memory to long-term memory. This area of the brain is very important for memory retention, thus causing the drinking group to remember the words they learned for a longer period of time.

This experiment has taken past research to a new level. In a prior study, this effect was proved, but only in a laboratory setting. In this latest research, the effect was taken out of the lab and into people’s homes. The effect, however, did not translate to image memory. When given an image memory task, both groups performed at about the same level.

Related: People Who Mix Energy Drinks With Alcohol Act More Drunk

Although these findings confirm prior research, the team at the University of Exeter does stress that this does not condone excessive alcohol consumption. This is a very limited positive effect, and the scientifically confirmed negative effects should be considered as well.

For example, drinking a lot over time can cause permanent heart damage, liver disease and inflammation of the pancreas. In addition, there is an increased risk of cancer in the mouth, esophagus and breast.

When drinking alcohol, it is always recommended that moderation is practiced and that discernment is used.