Acute effects of alcohol on encoding and consolidation of memory for emotional stimuli

Jessica Weafer, David A. Gallo, Harriet De Wit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Objective: Acute doses of alcohol impair memory when administered before encoding of emotionally neutral stimuli but enhance memory when administered immediately after encoding, potentially by affecting memory consolidation. Here, we examined whether alcohol produces similar biphasic effects on memory for positive or negative emotional stimuli. Method: The current study examined memory for emotional stimuli after alcohol (0.8 g/kg) was administered either before stimulus viewing (encoding group; n = 20) or immediately following stimulus viewing (consolidation group; n = 20). A third group received placebo both before and after stimulus viewing (control group; n = 19). Participants viewed the stimuli on one day, and their retrieval was assessed exactly 48 hours later, when they performed a surprise cued recollection and recognition test of the stimuli in a drug-free state. Results: As in previous studies, alcohol administered before encoding impaired memory accuracy, whereas alcohol administered after encoding enhanced memory accuracy. Critically, alcohol effects on cued recollection depended on the valence of the emotional stimuli: Its memory-impairing effects during encoding were greatest for emotional stimuli, whereas its memory-enhancing effects during consolidation were greatest for emotionally neutral stimuli. Effects of alcohol on recognition were not related to stimulus valence. Conclusions: This study extends previous findings with memory for neutral stimuli, showing that alcohol differentially affects the encoding and consolidation of memory for emotional stimuli. These effects of alcohol on memory for emotionally salient material may contribute to the development of alcohol-related problems, perhaps by dampening memory for adverse consequences of alcohol consumption.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-94
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Alcohol Research Documentation Inc. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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