Can alcohol improve memory function?

Jack Evans - Reporter

A study conducted by the University of Exeter, investigated the effects of alcohol consumption on memory function.

The study involved a group of 88 people, who classified themselves as social drinkers. The participants were required to complete a series of tasks, first learning the end sounds to a set of words, then recalling these sounds immediately after.

Groups were then formed, with one group consuming no alcohol and the other group consuming alcohol of their choice. A further two tests were carried out, one after alcohol consumption involving image recognition and the second involving sound recall the day after.

It was found that the participants who had consumed alcohol performed better in the recall test on the second day compared to those who were sober.

Similarly, there was a trend in the units of alcohol consumed and the test performance the day after. It is thought that alcohol intake may reduce the ability to learn new information, therefore allowing time for the brain to process previously learnt information, e.g. the sounds heard at the beginning of the study. Those who were sober showed a significant reduction in test scores the next day, compared to immediately after learning the sounds.

Before you get excited and head to the bar for your ‘purely scientific alcohol’, there are a few considerations to make.

It was noted that in the alcohol group, participants overall had spent a greater level of time in education compared to the non-alcoholic group. Perhaps, this could also have impacted the investigation as those with more educational hours may perform better at recall tasks due to their brains being used to processing more information.

In addition, the same alcoholic beverages were not consumed, with each person allowed to consume what every alcohol they wanted. Alcohol varies in composition from drink to drink, so the same alcohol was not administered to each participant. Those involved were also allowed to consume more alcohol after the test had finished on the first day though they had to record the alcohol consumed themselves. This could have led to incorrect alcohol consumption being recorded, with the extra alcohol consumed already being broken down by the body before the final test the following day.

Evidently more research will be needed into the effects of alcohol on memory function before a definite conclusion can be reached, with the negative effects of alcohol also having to be taken into account.

You can read the study here.

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