Hazy memories in the courtroom: A review of alcohol and other drug effects on false memory and suggestibility

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2021 May:124:291-307. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2021.02.012. Epub 2021 Feb 12.


Alcohol and other psychoactive drugs are oftentimes implicated in legal cases. A pertinent question herein is whether such substances might adversely affect testimonies of victims, eyewitnesses, or suspects by propelling the formation of false memory and increasing susceptibility to suggestion. In the current review, we amassed all available evidence on the effects of intoxication on false memory formation and suggestibility, including the substances alcohol, benzodiazepines, cannabis, stimulants, hallucinogens, and antipsychotics. Our review indicated that alcohol and cannabis under certain conditions increased the susceptibility to false memories and/or suggestion with effect sizes ranging from medium to large. When intoxicated during an event, alcohol is most likely to increase this susceptibility at high intoxication levels or after a delay, whereas cannabis exerts detrimental effects during acute intoxication but not necessarily once sober. For other substances, ecologically valid research separating different memory phases is needed. Overall, differences between substances regarding false memory effects exist, suggesting that a nuanced approach is needed when dealing with intoxicated individuals in a legal context.

Keywords: Alcohol; Drugs; False memory; Intoxication; Suggestibility; Suspect; Victim; Witness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System Stimulants*
  • Ethanol
  • Humans
  • Memory
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • Suggestion


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Ethanol