Effect of Alcohol on Encoding and Consolidation of Memory for Alcohol-Related Images

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Abstract

Background:

Drug and alcohol abusers develop strong memories for drug-related stimuli. Preclinical studies suggest that such memories are a result of drug actions on reward pathways, which facilitate learning about drug-related stimuli. However, few controlled studies have investigated how drugs affect memory for drug-related stimuli in humans.

Methods:

The current study examined the direct effect of alcohol on memory for images of alcohol-related or neutral beverages. Participants received alcohol (0.8 g/kg) either before viewing visual images (encoding condition; n = 20) or immediately after viewing them (consolidation condition; n = 20). A third group received placebo both before and after viewing the images (control condition; n = 19). Memory retrieval was tested exactly 48 hours later, in a drug-free state.

Results:

Alcohol impaired memory in the encoding condition and enhanced memory in the consolidation condition, but these effects did not differ for alcohol-related and neutral beverage stimuli. However, in the encoding condition, participants who experienced greater alcohol-induced stimulation exhibited better memory for alcohol-related, but not neutral beverage stimuli.

Conclusions:

These findings suggest that individual differences in sensitivity to the positive, rewarding effects of alcohol are associated with greater propensity to remember alcohol-related stimuli encountered while intoxicated. As such, stimulant responders may form stronger memory associations with alcohol-related stimuli, which might then influence their drinking behavior.

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