Study Shows Alcohol Consumption Levels Impact Memory of Traumatic Events

Alcohol may play a larger role in traumatic events than previously suspected. According to a recent Science Daily report, individuals who have consumed a moderate amount of alcohol before a traumatic event tend to report more flashbacks than those who have had no alcohol. Those who drank a large amount of alcohol before such events did not report an increase in the number of flashbacks.

This finding is according to new research at the University College London (UCL). Researchers believe the results provide new insight into why some individuals develop post traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) after a traumatic event, while others do not.

"Many people who experience a personally traumatic event such as rape or a road traffic accident have consumed alcohol beforehand. For the first time, this research gives us an idea of how being under the influence of alcohol might contribute to our wellbeing later on," said James Bisby, in Science Daily. Bisby is in UCL's Department of Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology and is responsible for leading the research.

According to researchers, the findings can be attributed to how alcohol affects two types of memory. One type is egocentric and provides a visual ‘snapshot’ of an event, while the other stores a mental representation of the context of the event, independent of the person’s viewpoint.

Study authors suggest the contextual memory is reduced in those who experience high levels of stress. This reduction could be exaggerated in those who consume a couple of glasses of wine, while allows egocentric memories to be involuntarily re-experienced. Both types of memory tend to be disrupted by larger consumptions of alcohol, leading to fewer flashbacks and an overall reduction in memory.

"When people have no memory of the traumatic event, as can happen if they consumed a large amount of alcohol beforehand, they are more likely to imagine a 'worse case scenario.' This alone can prove to be extremely distressing and debilitating for the individual involved," explained Professor Valerie Curran, also from the UCL Department of Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology, and a co-author of the research.
 

Posted on March 18th, 2010
Posted in PTSD

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