Establishing link between alcohol-related blackouts and memory loss

Memory impairments are a common phenomenon in people who are battling with alcoholism. Of the three kinds of memories, such as long-term, short-term and working memory, alcohol tends to alter the brain’s ability to form new long-term memories. After a binge drinking episode, while a person remembers things from the past, also known as long-established memories, he or she tends to suffer an amnesia when it comes to recalling incidents of the previous night. Also called as a blackout, this temporary amnesia does not essentially mean that the person is unconscious. Apparently, the affected person could continue to have a conversation with others, drive back home and indulge in risky activities and yet have no memories of those activities on the following day. 

However, not all incidents of blackouts are the same. Basically, there are two types of blackouts – the en bloc, or complete, and fragmentary blackout. People undergoing an en bloc blackout are generally incapable of remembering details of what had happened while they were inebriated. Surprisingly, many intoxicated individuals vividly remember incidents even after a complete blackout, provided they are not distracted and the delay is no longer than a few minutes, owing to the information stored in the short-term memory.

In contrast, during fragmentary blackout, there is only a partial loss of information. It is also likely for the person suffering from a fragmentary blackout to feel a sense of unease at missing vital clues or triggers from the previous day’s events. Apparently, fragmentary blackout is more common than a complete blackout.

It has been observed that when neurons in the hippocampus region of the brain are exposed to more than the standard amount of alcohol, they produce steroids, which, in turn suppress the formation of new memories. As a result, a person who has consumed copious amounts of alcohol will lose either all or a part of the memories associated with the previous night.

Tips to prevent blackouts

Blackouts are a common phenomenon, especially among teens. However, the risk of blackout is more in teenaged girls who weighed less and were prone to risk-taking behavior and impulsivity, apart from indulging in smoking or other illegal substances.

In a 2014 study, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, the lead researcher Marc Schuckit, professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego, said, “It’s not as if a blackout in these kids was an isolated phenomenon. Blackouts are unfortunately often considered to be a funny thing as opposed to dangerous. I am not sure the average person realizes the dangers associated with blackouts.”

Listed below are some practical measures that could prevent the onset of a blackout:

  • Having a glass of water with each drink could prevent dehydration and thereby lessen the symptoms of blackout.
  • Drinking a glass of water before going to bed could prevent a hangover in the morning.
  • Certain varieties of alcohol, such as vodka, gin or white wine, have lesser congeners, which prevent blackouts, than the darker varieties of alcohol, such as whiskey.
  • Drinking when one feels low or sad invariably increases the chances of binge drinking.
  • Eating both before and during the drinking sessions is important as drinking on an empty stomach increases the chances of a hangover.
  • Having electrolytes, such as coconut water or a glass of plain water with a pinch of salt and a spoonful of sugar could help the body replenish its lost salts.

Recovering from alcohol addiction possible with timely assistance

Alcohol is the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Therefore, it is important to identify the risky behaviors and seek help from well-managed alcohol addiction treatment centers offering holistic treatment to achieve sobriety.

If you or someone you know is addicted to alcohol and is looking for alcohol addiction treatment centers in the U.S., contact the Alcohol Addiction Get Help Helpline for assistance and guidance. Call our 24/7 helpline number 866-281-3014 or chat online with our experts to know about some of the finest alcohol addiction treatment centers in your vicinity.