Drinking to forget not only doesn’t work but actually strengthens bad memories, a new study reveals.
Whilst reaching for the bottle to blot out the memory of a former love is a common way of moving on, it actually makes things worse.
Scientists have now shown that alcohol makes bad emotional memories stronger and prevents you getting over it.
And their research could lead to new ways of treating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Experiments carried out on mice, identified the molecular mechanism for fear relapses caused by alcohol.
And they successfully used an epilepsy drug to reverse the effects.
The study, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, was carried out by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US.
Professor of neurology Dr Norman Haughey, said: “If the effects of alcohol on memories to fearful responses are similar in humans to what we observe in mice, then it seems that our work helps us better understand how traumatic memories form and how to target better therapies for people in therapy for PTSD.
“We estimated that 60 to 80 per cent of people with PTSD binge drink as a means of self-medication.
“In fact, binge drinking or other attempts to use alcohol to self-medicate could be sabotaging any therapy efforts.”
Mice were ‘fear trained’ by putting them in a cage with an electrified floor and playing six tones along with a shock.
They then split them into two groups, giving one water and the other a 20 per cent ethanol drink.
The next day they were then put in a different box and played the tones again without a shock to remind them before being replaced in the shock box.
When the tones were played again, mice given alcohol the day before froze over 50 per cent of the time, and those given water froze less than 40 per cent of the time.
Brain tissue samples from the mice showed that mice given alcohol had many more receptors at the edge of the synapse than did mice given only water.
These seemed to be perpetuating the fearful memories.
When the mice were given epilepsy drug perampanel which blocked the receptors, the freezing response in alcohol mice dropped to 20 per cent.
Prof Haughey added: “It may be possible to improve the effectiveness of psychotherapy in people with PTSD by using receptor blockers during desensitisation sessions when patients re-enact or remember the fearful situation.
“The reality is that people with PTSD are a lot more complex than mice in a lab, and someone with PTSD may be on a variety of anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants or even sleep aids.
“These drugs, together with alcohol, may affect the ability to let go of fearful memories in different ways.”