Cocktail party memory deficit and alcohol-induced memory blackout [video]

Studies have shown that while working memory still functions for a brief period of time during intoxication, short-term to long-term memory conversion is disabled. The more alcohol is consumed, the more memories are impaired. With excessive blood alcohol content or BAC, the normal processes of the hippocampus in the brain is disrupted.

Alcoholic drink pouring onto wine glass with a brain

Some non-official holidays, such as below, are particularly linked to social drinking and merry-making. This might result to binging on alcohol. It is important to know the risk factors and the impact on your memory.

  • February 14th is Valentine’s Day.
  • February 18th is National Drink Wine Day.
  • February 22nd is National Margarita Day.
  • March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day.

So they say…

Please drink moderately. Do not drink and drive.

But once you’re on it and got past to “your moderate level”, will you be able to remember what you are not supposed to do? Will you be sane enough to make a wise decision for yourself and others?

What Happens To Your Brain When You Get Blackout Drunk by Science Insider, on YouTube

Studies have shown that alcohol can still allow the functioning of working memory but only for a brief period of time. Conversation of short-term memory into long–term, however, is disabled. The more ethanol-based beverage is consumed, the more your memory is impaired (which also has ill effects on your motor skills and executive decision-making). Excessive blood alcohol content or BAC disrupts the normal process of your hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for creating new explicit memories.

Cocktail party memory deficit

In 1971, Ryback observed that BAC has a direct relationship with alcohol-induced long-term memory impairment. If there is a small to moderate amount of ethanol flowing in your blood stream (BAC below 0.15 percent), then there is also a small to moderate occurrence of memory deficit. This is what Ryback termed as cocktail party memory deficit – small-to-moderate memory lapses due to small-to-moderate drinking. If BAC is increased, then memory impairment will also be higher, oftentimes resulting to a blackout. (1)

Alcohol-induced blackout

A blackout is an episode of amnesia – one that is anterograde or that in which the person is unable to form new memories while intoxicated. This also means that whatever memories he or she had prior to alcohol influence, those can still be recalled once sober. (1)

Also called alcohol-induced amnesia, blackout oftentimes occurs during binge drinking – when alcohol is rapidly increased in the blood stream. The impairing effects of blood alcohol content or BAC, on memory vary among people. (2)

The possible key to having a blackout is “rapid drinking”.

Given the same levels of alcohol, evidences have shown that, as compared to men…”are at greater risk . . . for experiencing blackouts” and have more susceptibility to “milder forms of alcohol-induced memory impairments.” This is due to physiology, such as metabolism, body weigh, body fat proportion and enzyme levels. (1)

Women may experience blackouts more than men.
They are more prone to memory impairment when drunk.

2 types of blackouts

In 1969, Goodwin and colleagues studied 100 hospitalized alcoholics and found 64 had blackout episodes categorized into two types –

  • Fragmentary blackout
  • En bloc blackout

Fragmentary blackout

Fragmentary blackout is the “partial blocking of memory formation” and is the most common form of amnesic episode during intoxication. You can remember a few things or “fragments” of what has happened but not entirely. (1) It is also called brownouts in which you may remember once triggered or given a cue. (3)

En block blackout

En block blackout is when your total memory function is impaired. This is the stage of drunkenness in which actively retained information are never transferred into long-term memory. (1) It is like time-traveling without the knowledge of what has transpired during that event. (3)

Blackout vs. pass out

Passing out is when a person loses consciousness and falls into a sleep-like state. Blackout is when a person who appears conscious behaves rather uncontrollably and loses memory of what happened. (2)

To summarize, alcohol impairs memory up to the extent of how you are intoxicated. The more alcohol streaming in your blood (BAC above .15 percent), the more memory impaired you possibly become.

Please drink moderately.
Do not drink and drive.

Alcoholic drink pouring onto wine glass with a brain
Alcoholic drink pouring onto wine glass with a brain

(1) White, Aaron. (2003). What Happened? Alcohol, Memory Blackouts, and the Brain. Alcohol Research & Health, 27(2), 186-96. Retrieved from
(2) Binge Drinking & Alcohol Blackout. (2018, November 8). Retrieved from
(3) I Did What??? The Anatomy of a Blackout. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2019 from


Author: AboutMnimi

I'm a writer-photographer who wants to share all about memories. =)

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