Blacking Out After Barrels Of Beer!

Michelle Mullings

Why I chose this topic

I chose this topic because I'm interested in the way drugs interfere with brain functions, especially memory. It helps me because it educates me about why I (and other teens) should be mindful of our choices in adolescence, particularly in remaining drug-free, as substance abuse has ruined the lives of many.

What is it?

Drug-induced amnesia is defined as the loss of memory from taking substances that affect the brain. It can be a side effect from substance abuse, or it can be medically-required amnesia, like during surgery or other medical procedures and treatment. Amnesia, in these cases, either allows the patient to:

  • dissipate anxiety and avoid trauma (like in psychiatric emergencies), or
  • in the case of surgery, allows them to not be able to remember being operated on.

Amnesia can also set in due to substance abuse. A well-known drug that makes you lose your memory is alcohol. Many are known to drink too much and "black out," waking up the next morning and not remembering anything from the previous night. Benzodiazepines, and barbiturates can have the same effect.

What's going on in the brain?

A part of the brain, called the hippocampus, is damaged by drugs, particularly when taking or abusing benzodiazepines. This portion of the brain is responsible for creating new memories, meaning anterograde amnesia takes place. This type of amnesia can also occur in Korsakoff's syndrome, a complication of long-term alcoholism.

What research has been done?

Many studies have been conducted surrounding the topic of drug-induced amnesia, the most popular seeming to be blackouts caused by consuming too much alcohol.

Donald W. Goodwin studied the effect on alcohol in people's memory. He interviewed hospitalized alcoholics and studied the relationship between alcohol and memory loss in blackouts, and distinguished two different types: fragmented and en bloc blackouts.

Interesting Facts

  • Drinking on a full stomach rather than an empty one can help to prevent blacking out, because your blood alcohol level will rise at a considerably slower pace.
  • The main suspect in blacking out is a quick, dramatic spike in blood alcohol levels due to drinking too much too fast
  • Women are more likely to black out than men because their blood alcohol levels rise faster due to the fact they have less water in their bodies and less gastric dehydrogenase (a substance in the body that breaks down alcohol)