Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Alcohol and Memory

Alcohol has many effects on memory, both short term, such as the memory loss associated with a previous night of heavy drinking, and also long term. One severe problem is Wernicke’s encephalopathy, in which extensive and excessive drinking leads to a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1) in the diet. This can lead to catastrophic bleeding into the mamillary bodies in the limbic system once the person eats, because of a surge in glucose in the blood stream. This can also occur because of other conditions that cause nutritional problems, such as prolonged morning sickness. The person may be uncoordinated and have eye movement problems. Even with treatment, up to a fifth of sufferers may die. Those who survive develop Korsakoff syndrome, a condition marked by severe short- and long-term memory problems. The person is unable to make new memories and has great difficulty recalling events from several years before the illness. They spend their time not knowing when or where they are, although they are otherwise alert and aware. They may also confabulate, as the brain tries to fill in the gaps that should not exist (Al-Chalabi, Turner & Delamont, 2008)