Can Alcohol Blackouts Cause Brain Damage?
As the popularity of social drinking rises, and stories about excessive alcohol consumption seem to dominate the news, talks regarding the implications of drinking too much regularly are also becoming more common. One of the most common side effects of heavy drinking is what’s known as an alcohol blackout.
But what exactly is an alcohol blackout, and can it have a more serious effect on overall health in the brain and wider body? Here, we explore the topic in more detail and highlight the potential risk associated with alcohol blackouts and if they cause brain damage.
What are Alcohol Blackouts?
Alcohol blackouts describe the temporary loss of memory associated with a period of heavy drinking. It can happen to anybody of any age, regardless of how much alcohol they typically drink, but most commonly happens to individuals who have drunk an excessive amount of alcohol over a single session.
During an alcohol blackout, individuals may act normally but then discover they are unable to recall any events or actions that took place. There are two different types of blackouts: fragmentary blackouts and en bloc blackouts. The former is when partial memory loss takes place and means an individual may remember events when reminded. The latter is when an individual experiences total memory loss for a particular period. In this event, even reminders won’t help them to recollect memories which occurred when under the influence of alcohol.
What Causes Alcohol Memory Loss
The brain is a very complex organ and the memory process is multifaceted. When an individual consumes alcohol, it can affect the body in a number of ways including the brain and its memory function. This is because alcohol affects the hippocampus which is the part of the brain that is responsible for memory formulation. As more alcohol is consumed, the hippocampus struggles to consolidate memories, resulting in memory lapses or blackouts.
As well as this, alcohol consumption affects the brain’s ability to retrieve memories which is why some individuals struggle to remember events even when they’re sobered up.
Recent NHS data shows that 58% of adults admit to drinking alcohol at levels that could pose a risk to their health. What’s more, studies show that binge drinking, which is a huge concern in the UK, has a direct link to blackouts. The Office for National Statistics also shows that up to 20% of adults who drink engage in binge drinking every week.
Finally, statistics from UK universities confirm that young adults are particularly susceptible to alcohol blackouts due to their risky drinking behaviours. Interestingly, university research shows that a huge proportion of students suffer from blackouts – although the exact number is unknown. One study did find that half of students who drink admit to binge drinking and suffering with blackouts. It is important to note that the real number of people who have suffered with alcohol blackouts may not be accurate either due to underreporting, a stigma or simply not remembering the event.
Risk Factors of Alcohol Blackouts
While drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is the overarching cause of alcohol blackouts, there are several factors that contribute to the likelihood of experiencing a blackout. As well as drinking a large amount of alcohol in a single session, quickly, not eating beforehand and also mixing drinks can also increase someone’s chances of suffering with blackouts. This is because there is a rapid increase in blood alcohol concentration, otherwise known as BAC levels, which make blackouts more likely.
Individual differences can also make blackouts more likely. This includes genetics, metabolism and even mood can influence how someone processes alcohol and therefore the risk of them suffering with blackouts.
Do Alcohol Blackouts Cause Brain Damage?
Drinking any amount of alcohol can have an impact on someone’s overall health – both mentally and physically. When alcohol consumption causes memory loss, there are concerns over the hidden effects this behaviour could be having on the brain. It is important to note that while alcohol consumption does have effects on brain health, the direct correlation between alcohol blackouts and long-term brain damage is still being researched.
Studies have shown that alcohol has neurotoxic effects, however, which means that drinking alcohol can damage or even kill brain cells. Over time, regular and excessive alcohol consumption has even been shown to cause significant brain impairment. Research has also shown that heavy and consistent drinking can change the overall structure of the brain as well as affect its overall function, particularly in relation to emotion, cognition and motor skills.
A study from the British Medical Journal previously found that those people who regularly drink large amounts of alcohol experienced a faster decline in language fluency over a 30 year period compared to those individuals who drank moderate amounts of alcohol, or not at all.
What’s more, another study found that alcohol use disorders have a significant effect on someone’s risk of developing dementia, especially early-onset dementia. An international study which analysed more than a million adults who had been diagnosed with dementia found that alcohol-use disorders were a significant factor in the development of the condition.
Health Risks Associated with Alcohol Abuse
As mentioned above, drinking alcohol excessively can have a serious impact on physical and mental health – many of which extend beyond the brain. For example, chronic drinking can have a serious impact on the liver, resulting in a fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis. Alcohol use disorders can also lead to several cardiovascular problems including stroke, high blood pressure and cardiomyopathy.
When someone is intoxicated, there is also an increased risk of accident or injury. This is because individuals who are under the influence can experience impaired judgement or motor skills and be more likely to engage in risky behaviour, leading to falls, accidents and other injuries. In addition to this, alcohol can exacerbate conditions like depression and anxiety and can contribute to the development and worsening of mental health conditions.
To conclude, it is important to note that occasional and moderate drinking will not likely cause brain damage. However, understanding the potential risks and effects of heavy alcohol consumption is crucial. What’s more, alcohol blackouts can indicate a level of alcohol intake that is harmful to the brain and overall health. Therefore, making informed decisions when it comes to alcohol intake and seeking help for alcohol addiction when needed can prevent any potential concerns becoming more serious and having a long-term impact on health.
Call today on +44 (0) 800 012 6006 for support or advice about alcohol abuse.