If you have ever gotten drunk before or engaged in “binge drinking,” you’ve probably experienced memory loss during the intoxication. Examples include having friends retell events that you can’t recall. Or, finding yourself in a situation or in surroundings that lead you to ask, “How did I get here? What happened?” Another example is later learning that you said or did something that was embarrassing – something you would never do while sober.
What do the above events describe? Scientifically, what does alcohol do to the brain so memory is affected? “Alcohol primarily interferes with the ability to form new long-term memories, leaving intact previously established long-term memories and the ability to keep new information active in memory for brief periods,” according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
The NIAAA goes on to explain that as a person consumes more alcohol, the memory impairment increases accordingly. When someone consumes large amounts of alcohol rapidly, it can produce “partial (i.e. fragmentary) or complete (i.e. en bloc) blackouts, which are periods of memory loss for events that transpired while a person was drinking,” according to the NIAAA.
Research has discovered that blackouts (memory lapses not unconsciousness) are very common among social drinkers and college drinkers than what was previously thought. These blackouts can encompass all sorts of events, such as conversations, unsafe sex, and drunk driving.
“If recreational drugs were tools, alcohol would be a sledgehammer. Few cognitive functions or behaviors escape the impact of alcohol,” reports the NIAAA.
Alcohol impairs the following:
- Motor coordination
- And more
As the dose of alcohol increases, so does the degree of memory impairment. “Under certain circumstances, alcohol can disrupt or completely block the ability to form memories for events that transpire while a person is intoxicated, a type of impairment known as a blackout,” says the NIAAA.
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