Memory Blackouts

In addition to impairing a person’s senses and judgments, alcohol also has effects on other functions of the brain. Many people have woken up after a night of drinking only to realize that they have a virtual blank space in their memory. This is sometimes called the “blackout effect.” In more scientific terms, the blackout effect occurs when the brain fails to transfer memory data from short- to long-term memory.

According to one widely-used scientific model of the memory process, sensory data received by the brain is held temporarily in sensory memory, then transferred into short-term memory. Short-term memory, however, can only hold this data for a few minutes at most. In normal situations, short-term memories are slowly transferred into long-term storage, where they can last for years and be recalled at will.

This process is strongly linked to a forebrain structure called the hippocampus. Studies have shown that the hippocampus plays a role in both the creation of new long-term memories and the recollection of these new memories for about a year after their creation. Damage to the hippocampus can result in memory loss or impairment.

When alcohol reaches the brain, it seriously dampens neural activity in the hippocampus, causing the brain to lose the ability to move sensory data from short-term to long-term storage. As a result, the person’s memories of events which take place during inebriation will simply fade away after a few minutes, resulting in a memory blackout the next morning.

To learn more about alcohol and its effects, contact Dallas DWI lawyer Mark Lassiter at (214) 845-7007.


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