What Happened Last Night?


Many of us have a night or two where we wake up the next morning with a pounding headache and that deep feeling of nausea. You think back to that last memory of the night before and its not climbing into bed. This feeling is all too familiar to some of us after events like celebrating 21st birthdays. We all know these activities take place in our university, but do we know exactly how frequently?

According to statecollege.com 44 percent of college students in the United States engage in bing-drinking. This frequent high risk behavior affects universities across the nation. A study conducted by Marlon P. Mundt and Larissa I. Zakletskaia at the University of Wisconsin interviewed almost 1000 high risk drinkers in universities across the nation. According to the study those individuals who experienced 6 or more blackout incidents in the past year were 70 percent more likely to be hospitalized by the activity. These hospital visits have accounted for $469,000 to $546,000 dollars in bills each year! These dangerous behaviors are an issue throughout universities.

What exactly causes someone who drinks too much to experience bouts of amnesia? We all have a part of our brain called the hippocampus that is responsible for storage of new event memories. Most research on why alcohol depresses the formation of memory shows that it alters how our hippocampus functions. The hippocampus has neuron receptors that are made up of proteins. These receptors receive neurotransmitters from hippocampus, which allows us to develop short-term memory into long-term memories. Studies have shown that alcohol can severely change the transfer of these neurotransmitters by inhibiting the proteins or receptors (Aaron M. White).


            This idea was tested in a study by White and Best in 2001. They found cells in rat's brain that tended to fire neurotransmitters to other cells depending on the area in the maze the rat was in. They found that these "place cells" had a strong foundation in determining how long it took the rats to find their way around the maze. This is because these cells play a large roll in the hippocampus's ability to form new memories. Using wires they placed in the rat's brains they examined the intensity of how their place cells fired depending on where in the maze the rat was. After a baseline fifteen minutes of the rat roaming around, they introduced enough alcohol to the rats to bring their blood alcohol levels to .16. They examined that about seven minutes after the alcohol was introduced the firing of the place cells was virtually nonexistent. Seven hours later, sufficient time for the rat's BAC to return to normal, they performed they same test and the rat's place cells began to fire almost the same as the baseline test.


            Scientists know that these place cells play an important roll in forming new memories and that alcohol can greatly affect the functioning of these cells. However, almost every source I looked into said that scientists still have not figured out exactly what is happening in the brain that causes blackouts from alcohol. Although many advances have been made in research in this area, no consensus or universal answer has been found. It is very interesting to me that even with all the advances in science, they cannot answer why this happens with certainty. We do know that the blackouts are strongly correlated with the drinker's gender, how much they drink, how fast they drink, their age, and even their genetic background( US Department of Health and Human Services) . Knowing this information or not we all must remember to enjoy alcohol responsibly and safely. Always remember to: 

  • Pace yourself
  • Keep track of how much you drink
  • Keep track of how long you drink
  • Never drink on an empty stomach
  • Have fun but be safe!

BEST, P.J.; WHITE, A.M.; and MINAI, A. Spatial processing in the brain: The activity of hippocampal place-cells. Annual Review of Neuroscience 24:459-486, 2001.






This is quite interesting. I must admit that I've never really wondered how alcohol causes blackouts I just knew that it did. The idea that it messes with the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is responsible for memory, makes perfect sense. It is a bit disappointing that there isn't an answer that is more clear but the scientific method is a slow process.
Something that I have been wondering is if science is able to back up the statement "the truth comes out when you're drunk" that is repeated so often. I've done some preliminary research on the topic but haven't found many reliable results.

At one of the biggest party schools in the nation, I have no doubt that there are a large amount of heavy drinkers on this campus. My friends and I had a conversation discussing how there are probably a lot of binge drinkers on campus, but we don’t realize it because it is the “norm” here. I know people who always talk about how they black out and don’t remember anything. And yet they continue to do so. During the hangover, its always, “I am never drinking again!” Then that night they are back at it!

I think one of the biggest problems with over-drinking is that people truly underestimate the power of alcohol. The problem with alcohol is that the effects may not hit you immediately, causing you to drink more and more until you do feel an effect. By that point, shots have been taken and beers have been chugged, and there is no going back.

Medicine Net taught me that once alcohol is in your system, your body’s only concern is to metabolize it. Therefore, your body stops metabolizing everything else to dedicate its time and energy to helping you survive your Saturday night. But many people drink so much and so fast, that their bodies cannot metabolize the alcohol. When you drink alcohol, you should always drink a lot of water before, during, and after to assist your body in metabolizing the alcohol.

If you ever test your blood alcohol content (BAC), you can find out how much alcohol you have in your system. You test your BAC by using a breathalyzer; a little machine that you blow into and a number appears. 0 being no alcohol, and >.50 being a point where you could die! Police use BAC’s to test people’s alcohol when giving citations or DUI’s.
Your liver breaks down about 90% of alcohol, according to Web MD. The more alcohol you drink, the more your liver becomes damaged, which can be dangerous to your health. You need a healthy functioning liver for your whole life, so don’t ruin it in these four years we have at this school. The best pieces of advice if you choose to drink: eat hefty before you drink, drink a lot of water, don’t mix types of alcohol, and drink in moderation.

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