by Lucas Korth | February 1, 2014 10:45 am
I’m jarred suddenly into consciousness, as if revived from arrest. I feel bewildered, confused and ultimately depleted. I can’t see anything. I’m actually not sure if it’s too bright for my eyes to work or if they’re crusted shut. Why do I still have all of my clothes on? And why are they all wet? The floor doesn’t seem damp, so I don’t think I wet myself. Oh great, I slept on the floor. At least it’s my floor. I should get up. Oh my God my entire skeleton just cracked at once. I think I’m dead. No wait; I couldn’t be dead if my ears are ringing. Also, this intense throbbing sensation I’m experiencing is probably a sign of life as well. I have established life. This is good.
And once we are given life we must immediately question it. This is the nature of humanity, or more succinctly, extremely hungover people. Where am I? How did I get here? What did I do last night? Did I ever really enjoy LOST? Lord knows I’ve had my share of doozies. A dozen or so intoxicants filling me past my God-given internal line, forcing my hand into some ‘Great Unknown’, and yet still we don’t know. We must verify our deeds with others and listen in shame as our follies come home to roost. So many memories, however trifling they may be, live on only in the minds of others. They’ve become a sacrifice. I have created it, but I cannot truly attain it. It does not belong to me.
We all know damn well what causes this phenomenon: getting so absolutely pickled that the fellow in charge decides to engage auto-pilot. Let’s dig a little deeper though. Get down to the real nuts and bolts of what happens to your brain when you try to drown it in hooch. In fact let me recount for you exactly what transpires. Maybe then you will think of this the next time you notice your grasp beginning to slip.
Of course, not all blackouts are created equal. They differ in severity based upon the same general rules regarding intoxication, as in gender, height, weight, amount consumed, time elapsed, food, tolerance and so on. If you haven’t reached extreme levels of intoxication, you may only “brownout”. Basically you have a spotty recollection of the evening’s transgressions, only failing to recall brief chunks of time. Of course, if you often find yourself on the podium for self-abuse you may experience a total blackout; the proverbial, “the lights are on, but nobody’s home”. But whether you’re taking a moment or two off here and there or totally punching out for the night, the cause and ramifications are the same.
Alcohol disrupts the function of a part of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is integral in both memory formation and spatial navigation. When your BAC rises rapidly, some receptors in the hippocampus fail to transfer a compound called glutamate. Without glutamate, neurons in the hippocampus won’t communicate properly, which really gums up the works. If enough neurons are disrupted your brain will temporarily lose the ability to create new memories, and you blackout.
Recent studies have shown that blackouts are most common when there is a sudden and dramatic surge in blood alcohol content. In fact, if the rise in BAC is quick enough one could lose the ability to create memories before much of the other effects of alcohol abuse kick in. In other words, you could be carrying on a lucid conversation with your dear mother while playing minesweeper and writing an essay on overindulgence, and not remember any of it. Frightening, yes? Well what about the nightmare scenario where the intoxication has fully set in (i.e. poor judgment, rash decisions, aggressive behavior), and there is no recollection of it? You, my friend, came in like a wrecking ball (you wre-e-ecked me).
There is some semblance of a bright side, however. The correlation between BAC spikes and memory loss has muddled the long-held conception that only severe alcoholics black out. In fact, a recent study at Duke University found that social drinkers were just as likely to experience blackouts as your garden variety trench coat wearing, speech slurring, diatribe spouting everyday drunk. So if you’ve experienced these symptoms you may not necessarily be an alcoholic – yet (but, let’s face it, you probably are a dang lush).
Unfortunately the tie to binge-drinking also links blackouts to a veritable laundry list of long-term ills. Basically the entire list of causes for American deaths has been associated with alcohol abuse in one form or another, which makes sense. Any time you alter the basic function of the brain you are cruising for a bruising – or hankering for a spankering, even.
My epilogue for this essay is titled, “When it’s time to party, we should temper our partying and not party too hard”. I love a good time and a few dozen cocktails as much as the next turkey, but let’s simmer our gravy. Enjoy the slow burn of a nice, properly achieved drunk, and leave binging for the youthful. Nobody wants their head to turn into a bucket of mashed potatoes, so curb the intake and take the advice of a BBQ pitmaster: slow and low. After all, you want to remember all the dumb crap you do, right?
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