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Alcohol Dependence Damages Memory and Awareness of Memory

A study in the November 2010 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, reaffirmed that alcohol dependence has a negative effect on the brain’s cognitive processes such as memory. However, the study also confirmed that aside from inhibiting the proper function of memory, alcohol dependence  damages a person’s “metamemory,” or a person’s ability, albeit subjective, to know one’s memory processing capabilities.

Memory refers to the brain’s ability to encode, store, and retrieve information. Previous studies have found that not only can alcohol dependence impair one’s episodic memory functioning while drinking, but that even when not drinking, episodic memory function can still be in decline.

What this new study found was that most people who have poor memory function are able to recognize it with their metamemory and find ways to overcompensate for their forgetful ways. For example, someone who has difficulty remembering where they leave their car keys might put a dish by the door that they only leave them. Or someone who has a difficult time remembering what to buy at the store will make sure they write out a list beforehand. Metamemory enables us to adapt our behavior in everyday life so that a person can use his or her memory skills as efficiently as possible. Alcohol dependency not only disrupts the a person’s ability to properly encode, store and retrieve information, but it interferes with them knowing or recognizing their limits in order to adjust their behavior accordingly.

In fact, the study found that the alcohol dependent participants with chronic alcoholism believed their memory was as effective as the healthy control group, despite their episodic memory impairments being well-established during the study. The alcohol dependent group had a tendency to overestimate their memory capabilities and they also showed overestimation of mnemonic device abilities, such as tools used to aid in the retention and recollection of information stored in one’s memory.

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