If you’ve ever experienced a blackout or know someone who has, you know they can be pretty scary.
Blackouts have long been linked exclusively to alcoholics, but the reality is it can happen to anyone who drinks. According to Aaron White, senior advisor to the director at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
“Anyone can black out at least once, if you drink in the right way– or the wrong way.”
Blackouts usually occur in one of two ways. The first is known as an en bloc blackout and occurs when an entire chunk of a person’s memory is wiped out. The second, which is more common, is oftentimes referred to as a brownout. In this case, the person loses pieces or fragments of their memory, but still has a pretty good recollection of what happened.
In either scenario, memories are non-existent because they weren’t stored in the first place. The person who blacks out won’t remember what they did or said. It’s as if everything that passed during that time-lapse didn’t really happen for them.
To make matters worse, you probably won’t be able to tell when a person is blacked out. During a blackout, the drinker’s short-term memory is generally fine and he or she is capable of functioning as normal. They may be able to eat, drink and carry on a conversation as usual.
However, underneath this facade, more complex things are happening at the chemical level within the person’s brain. Alcohol impairs the encoding of contextual memories within the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with learning and involved in the formation of new memories. White explains that during a blackout,
“Your brain is sending information to the hippocampus, and it falls into a void.”
“The hippocampus doesn’t tie it together, or it skips a little bit.”
Factors that put you at risk of blacking out include how fast your blood alcohol content rises and whether or not you are a woman. Women have less alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme that helps break down alcohol, than their male counterparts do.
So before you take those tequila shots, please remember to drink responsibly.