Dry January and 5 blackout myths busted

Having gorged and boozed our way through the festive period, now is the time to concentrate on shedding the pounds and ease the burden on our livers. So why not start the new year and jump on the Dry January bandwagon?

This health initiative of giving up alcohol for a whole month seems like a simple challenge but in fact, it is harder than most think especially when January is often cold and miserable with stress and financial worries at a high and mood is low.

Recent studies with participants who were considered ‘normal’ drinkers (according to government guidelines) have shown significant improvement to their health and wellbeing. To help spur you on, here are the amazing things that happened to them during their 5 week abstinence and will happen to you, as you turn your attention to non-alcoholic drinks during Dry January, some of which will surprise you as to how quickly your body can recover from the effects of drinking hard over the holidays:

  • Liver fat fell on average by 15 per cent, and by almost 20 per cent in some individuals. Fat accumulation on the liver is a known prelude to liver damage
  • Blood glucose levels dropped by 16 per cent on average
  • Total blood cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease, dropped by almost 5 per cent
  • Ratings of sleep quality rose by just over 10 per cent

However, the study did not establish whether these positive effects are long lasting, nor does it suggest that you can go hard drinking alcohol for the remainder of the year. Total abstinence is most advisable for positive health benefits, as well as your back pocket. However, moderating your alcohol consumption and having regular drink free days throughout the year will go some way to help.

Here are 5 myths about alcohol induced blackouts that must be busted:

1. Your lost memories will come back eventually.

Not true. They won’t…ever! During a blackout, the hippocampus within the brain, which is responsible for long-term memories, experiences a neurophysiological and chemical disruption causing the hippocampus to completely shut down. Alcohol reduces the amount of information that is sent to the hippocampus and shuts down neurons in the hippocampus that make memories, in effect creating a temporary void in the record-keeping system part of the brain. Simply put, memories lost in a blackout will never come back because the information wasn’t stored in the first place.

There are 2 types of blackouts, the most common and less severe, fragmentary blackouts, often referred to as ‘brown-outs’, results in memories being fuzzy with some detail missing, for example, you might remember getting home but don’t remember exactly how you got home.

In contrast, ‘en bloc’ blackouts, which are more serious, are when the hippocampus totally shuts down and the ability to store memories is disabled. Waking up safe in your own bed with no recollection of the last 8, 9, 10 hours of your life is truly scary.

2. Certain types of alcohol are more likely to cause blackouts.

Often blackouts are blamed on a particular drink not agreeing with the individual. It turns out, not to be true either. It’s not the kind of alcohol you drink that causes a blackout, it’s the amount of alcohol in your blood and how quickly you reach that level. Fragmentary blackouts start at a blood-alcohol content around 0.20 grams per decilitre of blood (G/dL), while en bloc blackouts start around 0.30 g/dL.

The key factor here is the speed at which alcohol is drunk. Normally, if someone drinks slowly, the brain begins adjusting to the alcohol immediately to minimize its effects on brain function. If someone drinks quickly, the memory circuits have no time to adjust and shut down more quickly and easily.

3. Only lightweights black out.

It’s a mistaken belief that people who can’t handle their booze are more likely to black out. Anyone can black out if they drink enough fast enough, regardless of whether they can ‘handle their booze’.

Other risk factors for blacking out include being female, as women are more likely to black out than men, possibly due to women tending to be smaller and have less water in their bodies than men, so each drink causes a greater increase in blood alcohol concentration, and also drinking on an empty stomach.

4. You can’t function during a blackout.

Possibly the most common myth about a blackout is that it involves passing out, which may well happen eventually, of course. However, during a blackout the person is often still able to talk, laugh, flirt, sing, dance and seem to be in control of all their faculties. However, the next day there will be no memory of those things as if they never happened. It appears that information remains active in the short term memory for at least a few seconds resulting in the ability to continue conversations, drive cars and perform other complicated behaviours. However, the process of transferring information from short term to long term storage in the brain will have been completely blocked.

5. Blackouts don’t cause any long-term damage.

While blackouts don’t directly cause harm by themselves, drinking to the extent that you black out can have serious consequences. The amount of alcohol consumption needed to produce blackouts impairs balance, motor coordination, decision making and impulse control, leading to an increased risk of poor decision-making, injury, and even death.

Studies have found links between binge drinking and a reduced ability to learn new verbal information in healthy college students. With claims in a separate study that repeated blackout drinking is associated with altered brain development in adolescents.

Do you think that a habit of blacking out is nothing to worry about? Well, think again as repeated occurrences of blackouts through alcohol consumption greatly increases the odds of developing an alcohol use disorder.

Andy Cox, hypnotherapist and director of Assured Effects Hypnotherapy, believes that as individuals we can join this journey of tackling alcohol consumption by making good choices and exercising control to not follow the advertising campaigns and promotions which encourage us to adopt such unhealthy lifestyles leading to heavy drinking. Through hypnotherapy, we have the ability to change our beliefs and restructure and nurture our understanding about the way we drink and what our bodies truly need for maintenance of a healthy lifestyle. Click here for more information.

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