A popular ghazal ‘hungama hai kyon barpa’ asks why the hue and cry over a few sips of wine but now the lyrics of the ghazal may have to be re-written because there is enough evidence to show that just a few pegs of an alcoholic beverage can impair your memory significantly. So when someone accuses you of faking loss of memory in a drunken exchange, it might as well be true.
Impaired memory or blackout does not mean that the person becomes unconscious, like falling asleep. Instead, people often continue to interact with others, engage in routine or potentially dangerous behaviours, and even continue to drink. People who blackout may drive themselves home, engage in a sexual encounter, destroy property, spend too much money, or choose other risky behaviours.
People who are blackout drunk are more likely to physically injure themselves. They have also been known to walk home, brush their teeth, eat meals, or go through other normal behaviours. They do not remember these behaviours because their brain does not move those experiences into memory. Once the person begins to sober up, the brain will begin to process memories normally again.
A recent study found that some brains are more prone to blackouts from alcohol or drugs than others. Alcohol, in particular, affects some neural pathways that move memories from short-term to long-term storage; people who drink heavily or binge drink may, as a result, lose memories or struggle with amnesia regarding the previous evening. This study found that some people’s memory pathways are more vulnerable to this symptom than others; generally, about 40 percent of the population is prone to blackouts when drinking heavily (adapted from www.americanaddictioncenters.org updated November 26, 2018)
Putting together all available recent data on alcohol, it is clear that there is no such thing as a safe level of alcohol consumption from any point of view at all. Teetotallers, rejoice!