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ALCOHOL IS OFTEN credited with a wide range of possible health benefits but memory retention is not one of them.  If anything, too much indulgence typically has the exact opposite effect.  However, according to a recent study published in the journal SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, drinking can actually improve memory.  In the study, 88 social drinkers were given a word-learning task.  They were then split in two groups at random and told either to drink as much as they liked – the average was four units – or not to drink at all.  The next day, they all did the same task again and those who had drunk alcohol remembered more of what they had learned.  Researchers at the University of Exeter stressed this limited positive effect should be considered alongside the well-established negative effects of excessive alcohol on memory and mental and physical health.  Professor Celia Morgan said: “Our research not only showed that those who drank alcohol did better when repeating the word-learning task, but that this effect was stronger among those who drank more.  The causes of this effect are not fully understood, but the leading explanation is that alcohol blocks the learning of new information and therefore the brain has more resources available to lay down other recently learned information into long-term memory.  The theory is that the hippocampus – the brain area really important in memory – switches to ‘consolidating’ memories, transferring from short into longer-term memory.”  The effect noted by the researchers has been shown under laboratory conditions before, but this is the first study to test it in a natural setting with people drinking in their homes.  There was also a second task which involved looking at images on a screen.  This was completed once the drinkers had consumed alcohol again the following day and the results did not reveal significant differences in memory performance post-drinking.