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Why you blackout when you drink too much

Ever wondered why you can’t remember your big night out?

Have you ever woken up the day after drinking unable to recall chunks of the night before? Does this happen every time you drink? We know that alcohol can cause memory loss, but what actually happens when you blackout?

What are memory blackouts, and why do you have them?

Alcohol is a depressant, and can impair brain function, including memory. Alcohol-induced blackouts are common side-effects of heavy or binge drinking, and happen when alcohol prevents neurotransmitters from imprinting memories from short-term memory to long-term memory. There are two different types of alcohol-induced memory loss, or blackouts:

  • Partial blackouts: With a partial blackout, you may forget information or events from when you were alcohol-affected, for example conversations you had with friends or meeting someone new. But if people prompt you with clues, you’ll likely be able to recollect the lost information fairly quickly.
  • Complete blackouts: Complete blackouts happen when you can’t recall information and events from long stretches of time, even when others try to fill in the blanks for you.

Who has blackouts?

It’s a common misconception that only alcoholics have memory blackouts. Blackouts can happen to anyone consuming alcohol, and they tend to get worse when you drink more.

It is widely held that binge drinkers are particularly susceptible to blackouts. A 2002 survey of college students found that 40% of those who had consumed alcohol recently had experienced a blackout within the preceding year.

Drink responsibly

If you drink alcohol, drinking in moderation is important for your health and will help to prevent alcohol-related blackouts. The following tips will help you drink safely and responsibly:

  • Set yourself limits and stick to them
  • Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks
  • Drink slowly
  • Try drinks with a lower alcohol content
  • Have something to eat while or before you have an alcoholic drink
  • Dilute your alcoholic drink by adding water or ice

If you think you, or someone you know might have a problem with alcohol, talk to your doctor, visit DrinkWise, or call your state/territory alcohol and drug helpline.

Want to know more about how alcohol and drugs really affect you? Read about the main health issues impacting young Aussies at Medibank.com.au/Adultish

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