The acute effects of alcohol on memory: A review of laboratory studies in healthy adults

Miriam Z. Mintzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Given the widespread use of alcohol in society, research on the effects of alcohol on memory has important clinical utility. In addition, investigation of the amnesia produced by alcohol can be a powerful tool for elucidating normal and abnormal memory mechanisms. The purpose of this paper was to provide a review of placebo-controlled laboratory studies of the acute effects of alcohol administration on memory in healthy adult social drinkers. Acute alcohol administration impairs working memory, episodic memory, and semantic memory but does not appear to impair implicit memory or automatic, non-conscious memory processes. Alcohol produces relatively greater impairment of episodic memory encoding than retrieval processes. Whereas episodic memory is impaired following acute alcohol administration (anterograde amnesia), episodic memory for information presented prior to alcohol administration is enhanced under certain conditions (retrograde facilitation). Although extensive research has been conducted on the acute effects of alcohol on memory, many interesting questions surrounding the effects of alcohol on memory (e.g., the selectivity of alcohol's effects on different working memory processes; the conditions under which episodic memory retrieval is impaired; the mechanisms underlying retrograde facilitation; the effects of ascending versus descending blood levels on different memory processes), as well as the relationship between memory effects and emotion/mood, remain to be explored. Further hypothesis-driven memory research with alcohol using behavioral and neuroimaging techniques has the potential both to enhance the understanding of the clinical implications of alcohol use and to elucidate basic cognitive and brain mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)397-404
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal on Disability and Human Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcohol
  • amnesia
  • memory
  • social drinkers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Sensory Systems
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Advanced and Specialized Nursing
  • Speech and Hearing


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