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Study offers new insight into how alcoholism disrupts memory function

New research provides further evidence that chronic alcohol consumption can harm certain memory systems, such as those used in making face-name associations.

In a study involving 10 alcoholics and 10 non-alcoholic control participants, Stanford researcher Edith Sullivan, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Florida focused on what they described as “a cognitive process essential in daily living." They determined that the alcoholics' associative memory – used in remembering face-name associations – was inferior to that of the control group. They also used structural MRI to show that the impaired learning abilities were predominantly associated with cerebellar brain volumes.

In a release, the researchers note that their work "helps to underscore the complexities of alcohol’s effects on the brain." And they describe how impaired memory can affect a person's day-to-day functioning:

At work, alcoholics who have a job with a high cognitive load may have difficulties in learning new tasks.  At home, memory disorders may be considered as disinterest in family life and may result in conflicts.  Finally, from a clinical perspective, impaired episodic memory in alcoholics may hamper obtaining full benefits from rehabilitation efforts because successful treatment requires: one, learning new knowledge such as the meaning, self-awareness, and consequences of ‘addiction’ or ‘drug;’ and two, to ‘re-experience’ episodes when previously drinking, which enables anticipation and recognition of potentially risky situations.

The work is slated to be published in the July 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Previously: Study offers insights on how alcohol affects the brain, A sobering study suggests that binge drinking may lead to permanent brain damage and Does drinking alcohol in moderation improve health?
Photo by Jason Kuffer

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