Does alcohol make you forget tasks you were supposed to do? A systematic review1 analyses the scares evidence and finds that, at least in the short term, alcohol does indeed impair our so-called prospective memory. The long-term effects are still unclear.

What is already known? Research about alcohol on prospective memory is scares.         

What does this study add? This review is the first to systematically review the acute effects of alcohol on prospective memory. It includes eight studies: five RCT’s and 3 cross-sectional studies.

What is prospective memory?
Prospective memory is the ability to remember to perform an intended task at the appropriate time in the future, such as remembering to attend a meeting at 4pm or remembering to take medication.

Acute effects
There are five randomized controlled trials studying the effects of a moderate to large amount of alcohol. These studies found that 4-5 drinks (0.6 grams alcohol/bodyweight) impair people’s prospective memory. But the effects already seem to be present at lower levels of drinking. (0.4 grams alcohol/bodyweight; around 2-3 drinks).

Long-term effects
The review also looked at the evidence of long-term effects of alcohol on prospective memory. Unfortunately, there are only three studies towards this topic, all with a cross-sectional design and focusing on excessive alcohol consumption (binge drinking and hangover). With these high amounts of alcohol, there is a potential association with impaired prospective memory, but more research is needed.


  • Systematic review
  • Acute effects based on RCTs (high quality evidence)


  • Limited number of studies
  • Participants are all young; results cannot be extrapolated to older people
  • Studies toward long term effects solely focus on excessive drinking and have a cross-sectional design

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