What Happens To Your Brain When You Get Blackout Drunk | The Human Body


Narrator: Saturday, 12
p.m., the light burns, your head throbs, and
you have no recollection of how you got back home. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. More than half of college
students experience blackouts, according to several studies. And let’s be clear, blacking
out doesn’t mean passing out. You were probably awake
and aware the entire night. So then, where did all those memories go? Let’s rewind to Friday night. Normally, whenever you have an experience, like a conversation, a part of your brain called the prefrontal cortex
stores that information in short-term memory. Then, another part of your
brain called the 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 smell of sweat,
house music, Jen was there. But here’s the key part. Storing these episodes in long-term memory requires special neurotransmitters. But your liquor shots
prevent the neurotransmitters from working properly. So instead of remembering the party, all you have is an incomplete,
or even empty file. And the amount of alcohol
in your system at the time influences how much you remember. Let’s say you’re a 73 kilogram adult man, and you’ve done eight shots in one hour. Your blood alcohol content is probably around .2% by this point, more than twice the legal
limit for driving a car. And your brain may still be
able to store some memories, so you end up with islands of memories separated by missing sections. That’s called a fragmentary blackout, aka a grayout or brownout. But if you keep pounding
those shots, it gets worse. Within the next half hour, you pound back another four shots. Now your blood alcohol
content hits around .3%, and your hippocampus goes
dark, and full amnesia sets in. This is called an en bloc blackout, and once you wake up, that
entire night could be blank. Push your BAC much higher
than that, and you might die. And yet your friends
might not even realize you’re in the middle of a blackout, since the alcohol didn’t
delete your long-term memories already safe in storage
before the night began. So you can still carry on conversations and behave more or less like a
typical person, to an extent. Blackouts aside, alcohol
can still interfere with other regions of your brain, including those responsible for reasoning and decision-making. So during blackouts,
people have crashed cars, gotten into fights, and committed or been the victims of sexual assault. 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. But it won’t save them from a wicked hangover the next morning.

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