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This Is Your Brain… When You Blackout on Alcohol

If you’ve ever found yourself in a situation where you wake up the next morning without a clue as to how you got home, you might have experienced a blackout. This is right about when you start to wonder, what the heck happened last night? But have you ever wondered what actually went on with your brain to cause you to lose all memory of your crazy night of drinking? Many researchers have wondered this exact thing.

Studying Alcohol and Memory Loss

Dr. Mark Rose is a licensed psychologist and addiction researcher who has studied precisely what goes on in our brains when we drink to the point of memory loss. He discovered that blackouts are not caused so much by the amount of alcohol you drink, but rather how quickly you consume it.

Essentially, when someone drinks too much too fast, a wall goes up in the brain that does not allow immediate and short-term memories to take hold.

Receptors in our brains are responsible for helping us form and hold on to new memories. Alcohol, researchers have found, can interfere with these receptors, preventing the formation of new memories.

Blackouts or Brown-Outs

There are varying degrees to which these receptors are blocked. A blackout occurs when you drink copious amounts of alcohol and can’t remember anything you did last night, also known as “en bloc.”

A slightly lesser degree of a blackout, however, is referred to as a “brown-out.” The technical way to describe brown-outs is as “fragmentary.” You can remember pieces of what went on the previous night, but you can’t string together a continuous or complete story.

Interestingly, just because you blacked out doesn’t necessarily mean that you made a fool of yourself. The first thing to go when we drink too much is our cognitive skills, or memories. Our motor skills may still be totally intact, i.e. you weren’t stumbling all over your friends or falling off your stool at the bar, right away at least. You may be panicked about how badly you embarrassed yourself, but the people around you may not have realized just how inebriated you really were.

While you may not have embarrassed yourself quite as badly as you thought you did, you still don’t want to make blacking out a habit. Damage to your liver and permanent changes to your brain are very real and serious consequences of drinking too much alcohol.

Another word of caution to women: your brain recovers more slowly and you process alcohol at a slower rate than men, so think twice before challenging your guy to a drink-for-drink kind of night.

Additional Reading: Alcohol Poisoning Deaths Are Occurring at an Alarming Rate

How to Get Help for Alcohol Misuse

If you or a loved one is struggling with a drinking problem, help is available and long-term recovery is possible. An alcohol abuse treatment program can provide the tools a person needs to cope with life’s challenges and stay sober in the long term. You can contact a caring American Addiction Centers (AAC) representative free at for help locating treatment centers near you that suit your individual requirements. You can also check your health insurance coverage using the form below.

Levels of Care in Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment

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