Among the many effects of alcohol — or too much alcohol — can be blackouts. How does that happen?

According to the Washington Post: “Alcohol impairs memory formation, but not in a simple or easily anticipated way, researchers say. There’s no clear cutoff point at which memory will be suppressed. David J. Nutt, a psychiatrist and alcohol expert at Imperial College London, said alcohol blocks the neurotransmitter glutamate, which is essential to memory formation. That typically happens when people are ‘very, very drunk,’ he said.”

Kate Carey, a clinical psychologist at Brown University School of Public Health. said in the post: “In the moment, the person can be functioning normally, with no sign there’s going to be memory impairment. But because those memories never get consolidated and stored, it’s like they never occurred, so you can’t recall them later on. Which doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”

The effects may be especially pronounced in adolescents. A two-decade-old study showed the effects.

The Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research published a study titled “Impairment of semantic and figural memory by acute ethanol: age-dependent effects.” The study assessed “the acute effects of ethanol (0.6 g/kg) on the acquisition of both semantic and figural memory in a sample of young adults from 21 to 29 years of age using a repeated-measures, placebo-controlled experimental design.”

The results showed the more negative effects on younger adults: “Ethanol significantly impaired memory acquisition in both domains. In addition, the effect of ethanol on three of the four memory measures assessed was dependent on the age of the subjects. Subjects in a young subgroup (21 to 24 years of age) were significantly more impaired in memory measures than those in the subgroup that was 25 to 29 years of age. These results indicate a divergence of the potency of ethanol against memory acquisition across a narrow age range in early adulthood.”

“Drinking Messes with How Our Brains ‘Encode’ Information”

“When it comes to memory, drinking messes with how our brains ‘encode’ information,” William Barr, director of neuropsychology at NYU Langone Health told Popular Science.

The post continues: “There are three stages of memory—encoding, retrieving, and storing. Encoding is how we take in and remember new memories. We have to pay attention to something to encode it so we can later retrieve it from storage, says Barr. That’s why when you’re distracted, or doing something routine like driving home on a normal day, you may not always remember doing it. You ‘black out,’ or have gaps in your memory from drinking, when your brain is not encoding what you’re seeing and doing, so you can’t retrieve those memories later when you’re sober.

Kate Carey, a researcher affiliated with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism added: “Essentially, high BACs, and especially rapid rise in BAC that comes from drinking quickly, can interfere with the process of memories being consolidated into long-term memory.”

Read more on alcohol abuse here.

By , Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Florida

Tens of thousands of college students nationwide will cheer for their football teams this weekend. Some of those who show up for the game after tailgate drinking may not remember the highlight touchdowns that they cheered so loudly for. Others may have trouble remembering even a rousing celebration of victory. Binge drinking, the leading type of alcohol misuse for college students, is the culprit. Drinking too much too fast can cause memory loss, sometimes called a blackout, erasing any recollection of an enjoyable life event.

What’s more, research is suggesting that binge drinking in the college brain can impair not only learning but memorizing. Deficiencies in both of these crucial neurocognitive processes would probably make studying very difficult, and far less productive. In such a case, maintaining a high academic standing might be impossible.

While many young people may euphemistically refer to binge drinking as “partying,” those of us who study addiction know that it is a serious health risk for young people. We have long known of the immediate risks from assault, death by motor vehicle and suicide linked to drinking. But the effects of binge drinking affect learning inside and outside the classroom and can have adverse effects on making successful transitions throughout life.

The ongoing battle of the college binge

Binge drinking is generally defined as drinking several drinks – four for women, five for men – within two hours and elevating the blood alcohol level to 0.08 or higher. It leads to the deaths of about 1,825 people between 18 and 24 each year and close to 700,000 assaults. About 40 percent of college students binge drink monthly.

Despite a lower frequency of alcohol use in young people compared to older adults, getting intoxicated is more prevalent, and binge drinking seems to be their favorite way to get there. In fact, as much as 90 percentof the alcohol consumed by young people occurs while binge drinking.

Binge drinking can have an immediate and neurotoxic effect on the still developing and susceptible college-age brain. And, the damage done by heavy drinking can worsen from one party to the next, harming the brain at an accelerating pace beyond what would be expected from chronic dependence on alcohol. When a heavy episode of drinking has ended, and the hangover has cleared, there is still a great concern about the neurological insults that can interfere with the accumulation of text book and classroom facts. It can result in neurocognitive deficits that are likely to cause serious academic problems. Beyond that, if a young vulnerable brain is subjected to four years of undergraduate partying, the development of maturational skill sets, necessary for a more successful shift into adulthood, may be impeded.

Further explanation of this may come from objective proof that young binge drinkers have a depletion of glutathione, an important antioxidant principally responsible for protecting the brain from the oxidative stress of free radicals. When depletion of glutathione occurs in the hippocampus, a part of the brain playing a major role in memory and learning, there is less of a neuroprotective effect which persists even during periods of abstinence between binges.

Throughout development, spanning decades, extensive and important changes occur in multiple areas of white and gray matter in the brain. Among these is the prefrontal cortex, a region governing executive functions. Any interference from alcohol during maturation can result in what amounts to “faulty wiring” with lifelong effects. The resulting altered brain functioning, even while sober, can set off the impulse to take risks with thrill-seeking behaviors. Affected teens and those in their 20s are more likely to have less regard for the danger that may result from seeking extreme and dangerous pleasures.

Repetitive binge drinking is also known to impair social functioning. Young people who binge drink typically are not developing useful interpersonal skills. And, binge drinking cannot help the brain to learn and evolve into consistently making well-informed decisions, an executive ability useful for the achievement of success and the happiness that would naturally follow.

A particularly dark side of bingeing: Blackouts

Another big worry for those of us who study and treat alcohol abuse is blackouts. During a blackout, there is a failure of the brain to transfer memory, or what is called encoding. The information of facts and events cannot be remembered and is blocked partially or completely.

E.M. Jellinek, credited as being the first to view alcoholism as a disease, first documented blackout drinking as an important indicator of alcoholism. Now, experts acknowledge how frequently it can occur even in healthy young adult drinkers. About 50 percent of college students who drink have experienced a blackout.

Someone in a blackout may appear normal while engaging in conversation and even appear to interact appropriately and yet not remember any of it. That is because of a disruption in activity of the hippocampus, which also interferes with the acquisition of new autobiographical memories. While the brain is caught in a process of rapidly forgetting, binge drinking can also functionally compromise the brain with uninhibited poor judgment. The consequences can be embarrassing, and worse, can include injuries, sexual assault, unsafe sex, drunk driving and police involvement after drinking.

Researchers have a lot more to learn about blackouts. For one thing, we do not yet understand why blackouts continue in some people even after someone reduces his or her binge drinking. Genetic factors could hold the answer.

Earlier drinking in young people may also be associated with the continuation of blackouts even if binges become less frequent. Explanations for this require more scientific study like that done in Australia by Daniel Hermens and Jim Lagopoulos on the neurological underpinnings of alcohol-induced blackouts. They were looking for biological markers associated with alcohol-related brain damage affecting the hippocampus.

The greater question is can neuroscience rely on these brain changes as biomarkers to better understand what may be predisposing teen binge drinkers to blacking out and the resulting memory deficiencies that are far more worrisome.

What has been a common, expected and celebrated relationship with alcohol for college students should continue to be viewed with great concern. Enough of the facts are in from neurobiological research to understand that alcohol has a substantial impact on the brain’s ability to transfer information into long-term memory. Binge drinking students experiencing blackouts could be compromising an opportunity to take advantage of a great education and perhaps diminish the probability of the success they anticipate.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Most of us tend to think of alcohol use affecting mainly the liver and the brain. However, recent research points to evidence that alcohol impacts and effects almost every organ and system in the body. Further, the effects can be temporary or permanent depending on the amount consumed and the frequency of consumption.

According to drugrehab.org, “Alcohol is ingested orally and travels through the esophagus to the stomach. Alcohol requires no digestion before it enters the bloodstream. If the stomach is empty, twenty percent of the alcohol is absorbed through the stomach walls into the bloodstream and begins to affect the brain within a minute. For this reason, many alcoholics prefer to drink on an empty stomach. Although the esophagus is only the tube through which an alcoholic drink passes on its way to the stomach, half of oral, esophageal cancers and laryngeal cancers are related to regular drinking. The remaining alcohol makes its way to the small intestine where it is also readily absorbed”.

Those who drink on a regular basis are doing even more damage to their bodies. Gastritis, a condition that irritates the stomach lining tissues, can occur as well as reflux, ulcers, and erosion of the stomach wall. Malnutrition can present due to damage to the small intestine absorption mechanisms from regular alcohol intake. If individuals drink regularly over long periods of time, other conditions such as hepatitis, inflammation of the liver, and/or development of a fatty liver can occur. Ultimately, cirrhosis, defined as irreversible damage to the liver manifested in permanent scaring and decreased function, occurs from long-term regular drinking. Blood cells are also damaged making alcoholics more infection prone due to white blood cell abnormalities.

Mental function is also impaired with alcohol intake. First, drinkers may feel euphoric and calm. Then, judgement may become impaired which often leads to drinking more than intended. Memories can be lost, vision blurred, and coordination impaired with more alcohol. Last, even more alcohol intake can lead to confusion, stupor, coma, and even death from intoxication.

Although some damage from alcohol intake may never be repaired, abstinence can definitely heal many affected parts of the body. Generally, when alcoholism is present, medically supervised rehab is recommend. Getting enough vitamins and rest is necessary to repair the damage that has occurred. Sobriety can be achieved through this type of supervision, along with counseling and other support systems. Mental functioning can also be improved and regained with sobriety assuming that permanent brain damage hasn’t occurred. Outpatient therapy can help with lasting mental or cognitive impairment and is generally necessary to combat the effects of alcohol, on the body.

Alcohol & Pregnancy: “Don’t Do IT”

CNN reported today that a new study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics has put a very clear message out about drinking during pregnancy: “Don’t do it. Ever. At all. Not even a tiny bit. No amount of alcohol should be considered safe to drink during any trimester of pregnancy.”

The AAP cites several effects of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, mainly birth defects and cognitive problems later in life. Further, according to CNN.com, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also advise pregnant women to stay away from alcohol. In fact, an epidemiologist at the CDC, Dr. Cheryl Tan, advises, “There is no safe amount, no safe time, and no safe type of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. It’s just not worth the risk.”

Sadly, a different study recently conducted by Tan showed that during 2011-2013, one in 10 pregnant women reported consuming alcohol in the past 30 days and one in 33 reported binge drinking. Also, women who drank in their first trimester were 12 times more likely to have a child with these issues, compared to women who didn’t drink at all. First- and second-trimester drinking increased the risk 61 times, and women who drank during all trimesters increased the risk by a factor of 65.

Although previous studies have indicated that when women drink during pregnancy their babies show no problems with behavioral or intellectual development or balance tasks, this recent study emphasizes that the smartest choice is “to just abstain from alcohol completely.”

Source: cnn.com


Close-up portrait of a masculine guyAppearances and Drugs and Alcohol

Although many people believe that taking drugs and/or drinking alcohol will only have an impact on the inside of their body, these substances greatly affect one’s outward appearance as well. Alcohol and drugs most certainly affect internal organs, but drinking excessively or taking drugs too often or in higher quantities can take a toll on one’s skin, teeth, hair, and weight.

First off, alcohol is filled with calories. In fact, just one can of beer or one glass of wine is equivalent to eating a buttered dinner roll. Interestingly, studies show that having too much to drink can lead to an increase in caloric intake. Surveys show that binge drinking caused people to eat about 6,000 extra calories. Everyone has heard the expression “beer belly” and it comes from eating and drinking all of these extra calories. Further, alcohol can affect your outward appearance in that it can cause broken capillaries in one’s eyes due to dilating blood vessels, and dry skin from dehydration. The effects on appearance of dehydration from alcohol intake don’t stop there: dehydration from alcohol can leave you with brittle hair and nails and cause premature aging to your skin.

Another substance that causes weight gain is marijuana since it makes people feel hungry. When individuals feel hunger, they tend to eat, and even overeat when they would not be feeling hungry if they had not ingested marijuana. Alternatively, heroin suppresses one’s appetite, leading, in some cases, to grossly extreme weight loss. Also, heroin can cause visible track marks, sores, acne, premature aging, and blue skin and nails due to low blood pressure from taking the drug.

Similar to heroin, cocaine can also leave visible sores. In fact, symptoms such as a sunken face or a collapsed nose from snorting the drug show that cocaine is a substance that can have a very drastic impact on one’s appearance.

Last, but definitely not least, is meth. Meth ravages one’s appearance in many ways. It can cause weight loss, tooth decay, sores and premature aging.

Drugs and alcohol never leave the user feeling better or more beautiful than before, which is another reason to avoid them all together.


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