Christ, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. The first coffee helps prevent strokes, now alcohol helps memory!
“Usually, when we talk about learning and memory, we’re talking about conscious memory,” says Morikawa, whose results were published last month in The Journal of Neuroscience. “Alcohol diminishes our ability to hold on to pieces of information like your colleague’s name, or the definition of a word, or where you parked your car this morning. But our subconscious is learning and remembering too, and alcohol may actually increase our capacity to learn, or ‘conditionability,’ at that level.”
What is perhaps most interesting in this study is that drinkers are not so much addicted to alcohol, but the whole experience of drinking.
Alcohol, in this model, is the enabler. It hijacks the dopaminergic system, and it tells our brain that what we’re doing at that moment is rewarding (and thus worth repeating).
Among the things we learn is that drinking alcohol is rewarding. We also learn that going to the bar, chatting with friends, eating certain foods and listening to certain kinds of music are rewarding. The more often we do these things while drinking, and the more dopamine that gets released, the more “potentiated” the various synapses become and the more we crave the set of experiences and associations that orbit around the alcohol use.
Basically, alcoholics are learning that the entire experience of drinking is fun. And what that really means is that synaptic connections between their neurons are being strengthened. So, one might presume that a treatment to prevent alcohol abuse would be to weaken these synaptic connections. That’s exactly what one doctor is thinking. But there’s a problem.
“We’re talking about de-wiring things,” says Morikawa. “It’s kind of scary because it has the potential to be a mind controlling substance.
All of your memory and knowledge, as well as a great deal of your emotional life and the general experience of being “you” has to do with connections between synapses. A drug, such as the one proposed, has the potential to literally cause the mind to unravel. It’s exactly the kind of thing you would want to deliver to your worst enemy.