A Blacked Out Memory

in Article, News, Pop Culture
March 3rd, 2013

Social gatherings are often the scene of hippocampal disruptions.

Social gatherings are often the scene of hippocampal disruptions. (Scene from the movie Twelve)

“White Mike and his father moved after his mother died of breast cancer. It ate her up and most of their money. They can’t control the old radiators and its very hot in the spring time. In White Mike’s room, old unpacked boxes stick out of the closet so he can see them. Maybe you know how it is, maybe you don’t? But sometimes if you can’t see what you’re finished with its better. White Mike stripped to his shorts and laid down on the floor so he felt a little cooler. That’s how it was the first night in his new room and that’s how it still is. White Mike is thin and pale like smoke. White Mike has never smoked a cigarette in his life, never had a drink, never sucked down a doobie. He once went three days without sleep as a kind of experiment. That’s as close as he’s ever gotten to fucked up. White Mike has become a very good drug dealer.

Upper east side of Manhattan, beginning of spring break. All the kids home from boarding school and everyone has money to blow. White Mike is busy with pickups in Harlem, the other New York City, the one other kids White Mike sells to only know from rap songs. Its dangerous, but Lionel has the best bud. Ounces, and fifties, and dimes, and loud music, and packed houses, and more rounds. And kids from Hotchkiss, and Andover, and St. Paul’s, and Deerfield, all looking to get high. And tell stories about how it is, the kids from Dalton, and Collegiate, and Chapman, and Riverdale, who have stories of their own. All the same stories really. White Mike has different stories…”

Twelve, 2009, Joel Schumacher


Memories are merely cards in the hallmark store that is life. There is always a card for the occasion, regardless whether it was planned or unassuming. Needless to say, the memory may be dismal or content, but who knows? One can hope that the birthday card is going to put a smile on the child’s face, but what does one expect from the individual who receives the card when they’re grieving a loss, big or small. As we see with our new friend White Mike, not all that glitters is gold. Memories can kill the vibe, jump starting a downward spiral into an internal hell or some other unhappy place where compensation and fulfillment is never felt. However, like any hell, there is also a heaven. A card that can be cherished, loved, and motivating. A ‘remember that time when’ moment or a flashback to ‘those day’s.’ But what happens when you lose control of yourself in a heaven or hell situation? What happens when your judgment becomes cloudy, your speech begins to slur, and what was once clear is now dark. What happens when you black out?

Blackouts represent periods of amnesia, during which we’re capable of participating in salient, emotionally-charged events or rather mundane ones. Yes you’re right, drinking large quantities of alcohol does often precede a blackout, but contrary to belief, this is not the be-all end-all for a guaranteed morning of ‘WTF’ just happened. As one might expect, given the excessive drinking habits of many college students (I won’t mention any names), this population commonly experiences blackouts. Broken into two distinct genres, blackouts are defined as either en bloc or fragmentary. En bloc blackouts are characterized by the ‘absolute zero level’ of recollection you may have of any of the heinous events that took place while you were under the influence; as if any ability to transfer short-term memory into long-term memory has been completely blocked. Fragmentary blackouts only involve partial blocking of memory formation a.k.a. you may remember their charm, but not the nitty gritty details of the hookup.

The hippocampus, an irregularly shaped structure deep in the forebrain, is critically involved in the formation of memories for events…or in our case the lack thereof. When one indulges in excessive alcohol exposure, the ability to form new long–term, explicit memories is impaired because of increasing deficits in hippocampal CA1 pyramidal cell function. Normally structured to assist the hippocampus in communicating with other areas of the brain, drunk CA1 cells fail to maintain the cellular homeostasis behind memory formation. Ultimately, these changes lead to alterations in the activity of proteins, including those that influence communication between neurons by controlling the passage of positively or negatively charged ions through cell membranes, which is not good. Alcohol can then selectively alter the activity of these complexes of proteins, preventing the proper coordinated binding of neurotransmitters such as GABA, glutamate, serotonin, acetylcholine, and glycine.


The Process

Additionally, alcohol severely disrupts the ability of neurons to establish long–lasting, heightened responsiveness to signals from other cells which can lead to a laundry list of problems including failed calcium flux. Long story short, chemical imbalances = everything turns to s**t = ‘WTF’ in the morning. But alcohol isn’t the only villain here. Show of hands: Who else likes poppin’ Molly? Maybe some Valium? Or how about some Rohypnol? How about all three + Codeine blunts? Moral of the story, mixing other drug compounds with alcohol can and will dramatically increase the likelihood of experiencing memory impairments.

At the end of the day, drinking can take you to heaven or hell. As the rate of of Jägerbombing increases, so to does the magnitude of the memory impairments, for better or worse. Large amounts of alcohol, particularly if consumed rapidly (keg stand anyone?), can produce fragmentary or complete blackouts, which are periods of memory loss for events that transpired while you were drinking. Blackouts are much more common among social drinkers—including college drinkers—than was previously assumed, and have been found to encompass events ranging from conversations to iniquitous interactions between BU hockey players and their adoring fans a handful of girls. Too soon? All and all, let’s just be safe people!

Matthew Jahnke


Alcohol, Memory Blackouts, and the Brain – NIAAA

The Science of Blackouts (Alcohol) – Life by Experimentation

Twelve – IMDb

Twelve screenshot -Collider.com


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