A heavy round of drinking might erase all recollection of the night before, but a new study shows that alcohol consumption can actually increase a person’s ability to learn and remember — at least on the subconscious level, reports Science Daily.
According to researchers at the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research at the University of Texas at Austin, whose study was just released in the Journal of Neuroscience, repeat exposure to ethanol can enhance the brain’s ability to form subconscious habits and memories related to everything from food to people and social situations.
Unfortunately, the experts say drinking alcohol decreases our ability for conscious learning, so just forget about using the need to study as an excuse for getting hammered.
“Usually, when we talk about learning and memory, we’re talking about conscious memory,” says neurobiologist Hitoshi Morikawa, who headed the research team. “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.”
The study supports a growing school of thought that the brain does not become addicted to a substance itself, but to the entire experience that is learned while under the influence. In other words, drinking teaches us to drink more.
“People commonly think of dopamine as a happy transmitter, or a pleasure transmitter, but more accurately it’s a learning transmitter,” said Morikawa. “It strengthens those synapses that are active when dopamine is released.”
When a person drinks alcohol, the brain learns that drinking alcohol is rewarding, which causes it to want more. To make the imbibing activity — which can be repeated with other pleasure inducing drugs, like heroine, cocaine or crystal meth — even more enticing, the brain also learns that the activities and environment that go along with drinking, like hanging out with friends at the bar or playing beer pong, are also pleasurable.
Now, if only drinking alcohol could help you remember what a hangover feels like.