Blacking out: why can’t we remember anything after drinking too much?

The phenomena of blacking out has long been a mystery for many. Luckily, Maxisciences will explain this partial or total amnesia due to the consumption of alcohol.

© Getty Images

Originally, the term 'blackout' was used to describe a huge electrical blackout, today it is mostly used to portray partial or total amnesia related to alcohol consumption. According to a British study, conducted in 2016, 20% of teenagers said they had this kind of episode in the last six months. But what is it exactly?

Discover our latest podcast

Alcohol and memory: a bad combination

Starting from 3 grams of alcohol in the blood, there is twice as much risk of a blackout, and it’s the hippocampus that is affected. We will summarise what happens when you have too much to drink. According to the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a blackout occurs because:

The brain area that plays a key role in the process of everyday memory has been extinguished punctually by the alcohol.

This results in holes in the memory storage system, hence this amnesia and this sensation of being in a ‘blackout.’

Two types of black-out

There is the fragmented blackout, the most common form, where you are able to remember roughly what happened but details are missing. Thus, we can rememberdrinkingbut not who paid for the drinks or what we ordered exactly. A concentrated effort can make it possible to pick up the missing pieces quickly enough. The second is the total blackout. This severe form of amnesia can last several hours. It is almost impossible to remember past events because the information was never stored in the brain.

Women more vulnerable than men

According to Dr. Kate Carey, professor of behavioural and social sciences at Brown University (USA):

Between 30 and 50% of young adults who drink have already experienced an alcohol-related blackout.

And women are especially susceptible. A study published in 2016 in The Journal of Sex Research showed that even when drinking an average of three glasses less than men, they could be subject to this type of amnesia.

As recalled by an article in the French newspaper Le Monde:

Even with the weight and body-type of a man, they (women) have a greater fat mass that does not allow for a good absorption of alcohol.

This risk also increases for the fairer sex according to their cycle, especially in premenstrual and ovulatory periods. In addition, people with a low BMI, with genetic predispositions or who use tobacco or drugs would also be more vulnerable to these blackouts.

It is, therefore, necessary to remember again and again that we must consume alcohol in moderation. Especially since the consequences of such alcoholic amnesia can be dramatic...

Take a look at the video above for the full results of the study!

Drinking one beer a day could be ‘very good for your health’ Drinking one beer a day could be ‘very good for your health’