Alcohol-induced blackouts are little understood and much more common than most people realize. Frequent blackouts are extremely dangerous in the short term, and carry the potential for severe, irreversible brain damage in the long term.
Unlike a person who passes out from excessive drinking and feels deeply embarrassed about their behavior the following morning, a person in the midst of a blackout has absolutely no awareness and no memory of events. The individual may act normally during the blackout, or they may send nasty emails to a boss or ex-lover, drive recklessly, get in fights or break the law.
Countless reminders of activities and events from family and friends are of absolutely no use because the blackout works as a roadblock that stops the brain’s working memory from functioning. Occurrences and events during the blackout never make it to the brain’s long-term storage. The time is completely lost, never to return.
A Form of Amnesia
Blackouts are a form of anterograde amnesia, which means that although a person may be busy and active during the episode, it is impossible to form new memories. However, memories formed before the blackout are unaffected.
Researchers have determined that blackout-associated memory impairments interfere with the workings of the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with formation of new memories. The more alcohol is consumed, the greater the memory loss and risk of long-term damage. It’s easy to understand why blackouts are so dangerous.