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Acute alcohol and cognition: Remembering what it causes us to forget

Candice E Van Skike, Charles Goodlett, Douglas B Matthews
Alcohol 2019 April 11, 79: 105-125
Addiction has been conceptualized as a specific form of memory that appropriates typically adaptive neural mechanisms of learning to produce the progressive spiral of drug-seeking and drug-taking behavior, perpetuating the path to addiction through aberrant processes of drug-related learning and memory. From that perspective, to understand the development of alcohol use disorders, it is critical to identify how a single exposure to alcohol enters into or alters the processes of learning and memory, so that involvement of and changes in neuroplasticity processes responsible for learning and memory can be identified early. This review characterizes the effects produced by acute alcohol intoxication as a function of brain region and memory neurocircuitry. In general, exposure to ethanol doses that produce intoxicating effects causes consistent impairments in learning and memory processes mediated by specific brain circuitry, whereas lower doses either have no effect or produce a facilitation of memory under certain task conditions. Therefore, acute ethanol does not produce a global impairment of learning and memory, and can actually facilitate particular types of memory, perhaps particular types of memory that facilitate the development of excessive alcohol use. In addition, the effects on cognition are dependent on brain region, task demands, dose received, pharmacokinetics, and tolerance. Additionally, we explore the underlying alterations in neurophysiology produced by acute alcohol exposure that help to explain these changes in cognition and highlight future directions for research. Through understanding the impact that acute alcohol intoxication has on cognition, the preliminary changes potentially causing a problematic addiction memory can better be identified.


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