Effects on learning and memory appear particularly important when the drinking occurred during adolescence, an ‘accelerated learning period’ for most of us.

ThinkingI did a lot of weekend drinking in college  I guess it was binge drinking. Me and my roommates would buy wine by the gallon and the beer by the case. We were completely sober during the week, but on weekends we were usually smashed. Anyway, I got a DWI and because I was already worried about what I was doing to my brain, I eventually stopped drinking altogether. But now, three years later, I still have some problems with my memory, my ability to learn things, stuff like that. I went to see a neurologist and he couldn’t find anything wrong with me. I’m healthy otherwise. Could this be left over from the drinking?”

Seems to me you should be asking two questions:

  1. Could the problems you’re experiencing now be related to your past drinking, even though it was three years ago, and you only binged on weekends?
  2. I figure you’re going to want to know whether things will improve, and how fast, and what you might do to hurry it along.

The research on binge drinking is mostly animal research, but of the type that translates reasonably well to humans. And the effects on learning and memory appear particularly important when the drinking occurred during adolescence, an ‘accelerated learning period’ for most of us. Congrats on graduating, assuming you did – can’t have been easy with all those toxins floating around your neocortex.

The likely culprit in binge drinking is neurotoxicity (poisoning) of the hippocampus. Damage to cortical tissue seems to contribute to deficits in learning and also in decision-making, planning, and organizing.

Does it ever go away? It’s probably fair to say that things improve over time, but the effects extend well beyond the cessation of binge drinking. Since you quit several years back, it’s probably already improved.

You don’t mention whether you’ve been tested for cognitive function. If not, that’s a logical next step. Then you would at least have an objective assessment of where the deficits may lie, and how bad they may be relative to normal. As far as steps you can take to improve, everything I read suggests that the brain needs exercise – from something as simple as a crossword puzzle, to reading and learning new material, to a structured rehab plan. It’s a good question to put to a neurologist / neuropsychologist.


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