Here's what happens to your brain when you get blackout drunk

Imagine, Sunday noon, the light burns, your head throbs, and you have no recollection of how you got back home from the last nights’ party. Don't worry, you are not alone. More than half of college students experience blackouts according to several studies. Blacking out doesn't mean passing out. You are probably awake and aware the entire night. Then why you are unable to recall last nights’ events? It all comes down to a Science. Let's see what science says about blacking out when drunk.



Where did all those memories go?

Normally, whenever you have an experience or you are conversing, your brain called prefrontal cortex stores that information in short-term memory. Then another part of your brain called hippocampus weaves those experiences together so they can be stored away as long-term memories. So the next day you remember the party as a whole instead of the smell of sweat, house music, and someone in particular. But here is the catch, storing these episodes in long-term memory requires special neurotransmitters. But your liquor shorts prevent the neurotransmitters from working properly. So, your brain cannot remember the party as all you have is an incomplete or even an empty file.



When does this happen?

The amount of alcohol in your system at that time influences how much you remember. For example, you are a 73 kg adult man and you have done 8 shots in one hour. Your blood alcohol content (BAC) is probably around 0.2% by this point; more than twice the legal limit for driving a car. Your brain may still be able to store some memories. But you still may feel annoyed as you remember it vaguely, separated by missing sections. That’s called a fragmentary blackout aka a grey or brownout. If you continue pounding those shots, it gets worse. Within the next half hour, if you continue pounding back another 4 shots, your BAC hits around 0.3% and your hippocampus goes dark and full amnesia sets in. This is called an en bloc blackout. Once you wake up the next day, that entire night could be blank.



Is alcohol that harmful to your brain?

If you push you BAC much higher than 0.3%, you might die. Your friends might not even realize that you are in the middle of a blackout since the alcohol didn't mar your long-term memories that are already safely stored. So you can still carry on conversations and behave more or less like a typical person.


To an extent, blackouts aside, alcohol interferes with other regions of your brain, including those responsible for reasoning and decision making. So during blackouts, people would have crashed cars, gotten into fights, and committed or been victims of sexual assault and they might just not remember it. That being said, not everyone gets blackouts. Your sex, body weight, and family history all play a role. So that could explain why your friends recall the entire night despite downing just as much tequila as you. But it won’t save them from a wicked hangover the next morning.



What if you committed a heinous crime the fatal night or met with an accident, or did something awful and you don’t remember anything about this the next day? You get caught for the crime you don’t remember having committed. This would be the most unfortunate thing. You might get arrested for two things, for drunk driving and also for the crime. How to not get involved in this? Just have alcohol in the limit which will let you enjoy the party and will take you home safely.



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