Derailed by the Blackout Express?
Sunday morning, and your mouth tastes like cotton dipped in garbage and coated in tar. You immediately regret opening your eyes, because you’re not ready for sunlight just yet. As you slowly regain consciousness, your first thought is, what happened last night?
By Kathryn S
You check your phone, and see that you dialed your ex at 1:34, your best friend at 1:52 (which is weird, because you went to the bar together), an unknown number at 2:04, and someone called “Tattoo Joe,” a name that wasn’t in your directory yesterday afternoon, at 4:23. You immediately call your BFF, and ask the question aloud: “What happened last night?”
Blacking out probably dates back to the birth of alcohol, but it has long baffled doctors, psychologists, and college students. Why does that one last drink put you over the edge, and erase hours worth of memories? Why is it pretty much impossible to tell when you’re having a conversation with someone who is currently experiencing a blackout? Britain’s Telegraph recently reported that the reason why people forget the embarrassing things they do when they are drunk has been discovered.
The article’s opening statement reads, “Research at the University of Sussex has found that alcohol influences the brain’s ability to form memories, making memories before a drink stronger and memories of things that happen while under the influence weaker.” Um… it took them until 2008 to figure this out?
While I found that statement quite obvious, I kept reading, hoping that they might have also discovered a cure for blacking out. Besides sobriety, that is. Apparently, these Sussex researchers hypothesize that “while a drinker may remember the happy events such as socialising with friends at the start of a drinking session, they are less able to recall the negative effects that happen later in the night.”
I have several problems with the above statement. First of all, if memories before a drink are stronger anyway, it seems that it’s a given that the start of the boozefest, happy or not, will be more memorable than the end, happy or not. Second of all, there are plenty of happy things that personally I don’t remember, and tons of negative memories that I wish I could suppress.
Case in point: I cannot, for the life of me, remember a serious conversation I had with this guy two weeks ago. All I know is that I must have said the right things, because I spent the night. On the other hand, I most certainly remember trying to hit on him again last weekend, and being completely rejected.
Case in point number 2: Everyone insists I had a great time at my end-of-the-summer keg party. Apparently I was laughing, dancing, and being a fairly-well-behaved social butterfly. Instead of my brain holding onto these happy memories, I only remember the part of the night where I was dry-heaving behind my house after a 20-second kegstand.
I think this study is full of holes. The researchers also claim that “people are more likely to drink heavily the next time they go out because they only remember the good memories about the last time.” I beg to differ. I hate not remembering. Even if I had a great time early in the night, not remembering how the night ended usually makes me simmer down for a little while (sometimes a very little while, but hey, I’m trying).
After a night of heavy drinking, even the memories before the sh*tshow can feel skewed and foggy. Did we have that conversation before or after the shots of Cabo Wabo? Wasn’t I a dancing machine even before I played my first game of beer pong? Even after a night of “light” drinking, certain details can easily slip one’s mind.
While I certainly agree that alcohol impairs the brain, and thus the brain’s ability to form new memories, I don’t think there are underlying psychological reasons (embarrassment, heartache, anger) that add to the likelihood of experiencing a blackout.
Of course, I’m no scientist. But I could be a guinea pig.