Alcohol consumption can produce a large number of side effects including blurred vision, slurred speech and loss of coordination. It is also known to cause impaired memory which may occur as a result of a blackout.
All of these side effects typically present within one or two drinks and will fade when drinking stops; however, long-term alcohol abuse can produce side effects that persist long after someone is no longer intoxicated. Use of alcohol over a long period of time can produce deficits in the brain that can lead to life-long impairments. From basic forgetfulness to more debilitating conditions, the effects of alcohol abuse vary from person to person and are dependent on a variety of influences and factors including frequency of consumption, age, family history, and overall general health.
Blackouts: More Common Than You May Think
One of the most common impairments produced by excessive alcohol consumption is blackouts. Also known as memory lapses, blackouts occur when large quantities of alcohol are consumed quickly, and are more likely to occur when alcohol is consumed on an empty stomach. Blackouts are common among social drinkers and frequently reported among college-aged students who engage in binge drinking. While an equal number of men and women report experiencing a blackout at some point, women are more susceptible to experiencing them having consumed less alcohol, due to the way in which their bodies metabolize the drug. Regardless of gender, individuals who consume large amounts of alcohol over long periods of time are at a higher risk of developing serious changes in the brain. This may make them more likely to suffer memory loss and other cognitive side effects.
How Alcohol Can Impact Your Sober, Everyday Memory
Research shows that heavy alcohol consumption causes damage to memory, learning, and retention; however, less is known about the effects of alcohol on everyday memory, including the effects of alcohol on one’s ability to remember to do things in the future. A 2003 study, published in the June issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, discovered that heavy alcohol consumption has a negative impact on everyday memory. This may include forgetting to complete an activity or forgetting what one was saying mid-sentence. While everyone may experience similar lapses in memory from time to time, heavy alcohol users experience these lapses more frequently than those who consume little to no alcohol. According to the study, those who heavily consumed alcohol reported over 30 percent more memory-related problems than those who do not drink alcohol and almost 25 percent more memory-related problems than those who drank small amounts of alcohol.
Exercise May Improve Memory
While there are no proven ways to reverse the effects of alcohol on the brain, recent research indicates that exercise may correct existing damage. Those who exercise regularly tend to have better functioning brains than those who do not. This is because exercise helps keeps blood vessels healthy and protects the brain’s white matter. While regular exercise does improve a heavy drinker’s condition, it does not protect them from all the negative consequences of excessive consumption. As more research is done, the link between exercise and healthy brain function is an important discovery from a treatment standpoint, providing many individuals with outlets and alternatives to alcohol abuse and a way to address the damage caused by excessive consumption. In addition to its positive effects on the brain, exercise improves overall physical condition, self-esteem, and confidence, making the recovery process easier and helping to set a foundation for a healthy, sober lifestyle.