Feel Great · General Health · Student Life

Your Brain on Blackout

As we return from spring break, comparing tan lines and swapping stories, we remember some days and nights better than others. Oops. Those foggier memories may come from times where we had just a few too many, and caused us to black out for a small, or large, period of time. Regardless of what happened during the blackout, why do we have them?

Scientists believe blacking out is a form of amnesia that occurs, blocking us from forming long-term memories. That means during your time of blackout, you may remember something that happened five minutes ago,which is logged away in your short-term memory, but you certainly won’t remember it in the morning. Yikes!

This “amnesia” is caused by a domino effect. When our blood alcohol spikes, usually right after those consecutive tequila shots, it interferes with the receptors in the hippocampus, the area of the brain largely associated with memory. The hippocampus releases a chemical normally called glutamate that transfers signals between neurons. Alcohol prevents these signals from transferring, and activates other receptors. As a result, the neurons create steroids that fully prevent neurons from communicating with one another, blocking the process of long-term potentiation, a process needed for memory and learning.

Thus we can’t create new memories, but most of our normal functioning continues, like walking, and talking(or slurring). This means you could have partaken in all of the activities that occurred at the beach party, you just don’t remember them. Which is probably the scariest part.

The only way to avoid blackouts is by drinking on a fuller stomach, or drinking slower. Also, women’s levels of blood alcohol tend to spike more quickly than men’s, as we have less water in our system and less of an enzyme that breaks down alcohol. Not good. When you go to grab for that third tequila shot, keep this is mind.

By Aisling Williams