Can alcohol help the brain remember?

Annabelle Sheldon

Who knew that drinking alcohol could be beneficial? According to a study done by The Waggoner Centre for Alcohol and Addiction Research at the University of Texas, consuming alcoholic beverages can help boost certain areas of the brain to learn and remember.

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Neurobiologist Hotoshi Morikawa says that when we drink alcohol our subconscious is learning to consume more. The common view that drinking is bad for your learning and memory isn’t untrue, but, that this only highlights one side of how the consumption of ethanol, a substance found in alcohol impacts the brain.

"Usually, when we talk about learning and memory, we're talking about conscious memory," said Morikawa.

"Alcohol diminishes our ability to hold on to pieces of information like your colleague's name, or the definition of a word, or where you parked your car this morning. But our subconscious is learning and remembering too, and alcohol may actually increase our capacity to learn, or 'conditionability,' at that level."

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Morikawa’s study found that when the subconscious part of our brain was repeatedly exposed to ethanol, we become more receptive to forming memories and habits to do with food, music, people and even social situations.

"People commonly think of dopamine as a happy transmitter, or a pleasure transmitter, but more accurately it's a learning transmitter," says Morikawa. "It strengthens those synapses that are active when dopamine is released."

When drinking alcohol our brain learns that it is rewarding and so the situations surrounding the consumption of alcohol are pleasing. Catching up with friends, eating certain types of foods and listening to particular music all become rewarding.

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Morikawa’s hope is that this study will improve the understanding of addiction and help him develop anti-addiction drugs that would weaken, not strengthen, the key synapses.

We're talking about de-wiring things," says Morikawa. "It's kind of scary because it has the potential to be a mind controlling substance. Our goal, though, is to reverse the mind controlling aspects of addictive drugs."

Friday night drinks have never been more worthwhile.