Alcohol Strengthens Subconscious Learning Prompting Addiction

By Staff Writer

Despite common perception, alcohol actually boosts the learning ability of certain areas of the brain, according to new research published in the Journal of Neuroscience. However, rather than being a benefit, this increased memory power may be one of the underpinnings of addiction.

Researchers said that most people have become aware of alcohol’s effects on conscious memory after forgetting the name of an acquaintance or the address of a friend while drinking. However, the part of memory boosted by alcohol is less obvious. It affects subconscious areas of the brain that are involved in learning and information recall.

This is how addictions are formed. Alcohol strengthens the learning ability of these unconscious areas and the brain comes to expect the rewards derived from the substance in the future. The brain learns that the experience of drinking is pleasurable and worth repeating.

The researchers said that they hope these findings can one day be used to improve the ability of drug rehab centers to provide help to alcoholics. It may enable these facilities to “de-wire” the learned associations between alcohol and pleasure.