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How does alcohol cause blackouts? - Shannon Odell


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Alcohol has been shown to have strange and selective effects on the brain. Many intoxicated people can perform complex tasks like holding a detailed conversation or navigating a walk home. Yet for those experiencing a blackout, the memory of these events is quickly forgotten. So, how does alcohol cause these memory lapses? Shannon Odell explores how ethanol interrupts the brain’s processes.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

To learn more about the mechanisms behind alcohol-induced blackouts, read this article from Scientific American. Neuroscientists are still studying the precise causes of these temporary bouts of amnesia, but it is widely agreed upon that alcohol interrupts the function of the hippocampus — the brain region that plays a central role in memory formation. Because the structure of ethanol allows it to easily cross the blood-brain barrier, alcohol can quickly penetrate the brain and interfere with neuronal communication.

Blackouts typically occur when your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is .16% or higher. Experiencing a blackout does not always indicate an alcohol use disorder, but the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests reevaluating your relationship with alcohol after just one. Click here to see a chart of predictable effects at different BAC levels.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Shannon Odell
  • Director Anton Bogaty
  • Narrator Pen-Pen Chen
  • Music Jarrett Farkas
  • Sound Designer and Mixer Weston Fonger
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Producer Sazia Afrin
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Editorial Producer Shannon Odell
  • Fact-Checker Charles Wallace

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