If you’ve ever found yourself in the situation where you wake up the next morning without a clue of how you got home, you might have experienced a blackout. That 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 that 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 those receptors, preventing the formation of new memories.
Blackouts or Brown-Outs
There are varying degrees to which these receptors are blocked, as well. 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 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 something you do on the regular. Damage to your liver and permanent changes to your brain are very real and serious consequence of drinking too much alcohol.
Another word of caution to women: your brain recovers slower and you process alcohol at a slower rate than your male counterpart. 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
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