Background. Chronic alcohol abuse is associated with a wide range of cognitive deficits. However, little is known about memory for real-life events (autobiographical memory) in non-amnesic alcoholic patients. The purpose of this study was to investigate (a) non-amnesic alcoholics' ability to recall specific autobiographical memories and (b) their subjective experience when they access specific memories.
Method. Twenty non-amnesic (without Korsakoff syndrome) recently detoxified alcoholics and 20 healthy controls completed the Autobiographical Memory Test (AMT), which assesses the frequency of specific (versus general) memories recalled in response to cue words, and the Memory Characteristics Questionnaire (MCQ), which assesses subjective experience (e.g. the amount of sensory and contextual details experienced) when remembering specific events.
Results. Alcoholic patients recalled specific memories less frequently and general memories more frequently than healthy controls. Nevertheless, when a specific past event was accessed, alcoholic patients subjectively experienced as many sensory and contextual details as controls.
Conclusions. These findings suggest that non-amnesic alcoholics have difficulties strategically accessing event-specific autobiographical knowledge, which might result from changes in frontal lobe function that are associated with alcoholism.