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Drinking for just eight weeks impairs learning and memory in mice

  • Previous human and animal studies have shown that chronic alcohol consumption can produce deficits in learning and memory.
  • A new rodent study is the first to show that continuous drinking for as little as eight weeks can produce deficits in learning and memory that last up to 12 weeks after drinking stopped.

Both human and animal studies have shown that chronic alcohol consumption can produce deficits in learning and memory. Rodent studies, for example, have shown that chronic alcohol consumption for six months or more can produce permanent deficits and neural damage. A rodent study in the June issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research is the first to show that continuous drinking for as little as eight weeks can produce deficits in learning and memory that last up to 12 weeks after drinking stopped.

"The learning and memory deficits we found in our mice that received eight weeks of alcohol followed by three weeks of withdrawal affect all types of learning and memory," said Susan A. Farr, associate professor of medicine at St. Louis University School of Medicine and corresponding author for the study. "That is, they are global. We found deficits in every type of task we tested the mice in, from complex to simple tasks. Our study is the first to show that drinking for a duration as short as eight weeks produces lasting deficits up to at least 12 weeks after the cessation of alcohol."

"Drinking doesn't just produce a hangover," said D. Allan Butterfield, The Alumni Professor of biological and physical chemistry at the University of Kentucky. "Chronic drinking may lead to permanent cognitive deficits." Butterfield, also director of the Center of Membrane Studies, said these findings are especially troubling for college students who may engage in binge drinking. "People should exercise caution against binge drinking since cognitive deficits may ensue," he said.

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