Drinking Can Help You Remember What Happened the Last Time You Drank

© Tina Rupp
By Justine Sterling Posted February 18, 2016

Blanking on something you heard at happy hour? Grab a glass of wine.

Recent studies have claimed that booze could help prevent Alzheimer’s or extend your lifespan. But today’s news is perhaps more surprising: Drinking alcohol could improve your memory.

The announcement comes from neurologist Dr. Dean Burnett. In a section of his book Idiot Brains (excerpted in The Guardian), Burnett writes that while alcohol does disrupt the memory system, it can actually help people recall lost memories—specifically, memories made when drinking. “This is the phenomenon known as state-specific recall,” he writes. “You’re better able to recall [a memory] if you are in the same environment where the memory was acquired. But, and here’s the clever bit, this also applies to the internal context, or ‘state.’” Burnett goes on to explain that if you are a bit buzzed when someone tells you something interesting or useful, your brain will code the memory with that buzzed feeling. “Your brain…would be better able to retrieve this memory if you were to have another couple glasses of wine,” he writes. (“On a different night, not right after the first two [glasses],” he adds.)

Burnett advises against using this tactic as a means of studying for a test—“Turning up drunk for a test will be problematic enough to cancel out any minor memory advantages,” he explains—but he does offer a helpful tip for students pulling highly caffeinated all-nighters. “Caffeine affects the brain and produces a specific internal state that can help trigger memories,” he writes. “So if you attend the exams similarly stimulated by excessive caffeine, then it could well help.”

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