A new study looks at the science behind blackouts related to binge drinking and just how they affect the brain.
It’s been said that overindulging in alcohol kills brain cells. We’ve heard it so often, in fact, that it’s become accepted as fact. But is it? A new study shows that alcohol — even when used to the point of blackout intoxication — isn’t actually killing brain cells. Instead, it’s preventing your brain from forming new memories.
The study, done at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, explains the biology of how the brain deals with alcohol. In particular, the research looks at how the brain reacts when a person is so intoxicated that they cannot recall events during the period commonly referred to as “blackout.”
Large quantities of alcohol interfere with key receptors in the hippocampus, the main center for cognitive functioning in the brain. At the same time, alcohol releases a steroid that that inhibits the way by which the brain strengthens synapses — or the connections between brain cells.
Researchers now believe that large amounts of alcohol won’t kill brain cells, but rather it signals compounds that inhibit the brain’s ability to form memories. This “may explain why individuals who get highly intoxicated don’t remember what they did the night before,” senior investigator Charles F. Zorumski, MD, the Samuel B. Guze Professor and head of the Department of Psychiatry said in a press release from Washington University.
This may seem like good news or even a license to party, but drinking to the point of blackout is still dangerous. It lowers inhibition and affects judgment, as well as having a negative effect on overall health – not to mention the killer hangover. And regularly drinking to excess or not being able to stop drinking despite negative consequences can be a sign of alcoholism.
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