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Loss of Short Term Memory as a Predictor of the Alcoholic “Blackout”


MEMORY loss caused by alcohol is a common occurrence. Most alcoholics report “blackouts” (amnesia) in connexion with drinking, and many nonalcoholics sometimes have trouble remembering events that occurred while they were intoxicated1. The cause of this is unknown. Some psychiatrists believe blackouts to be a functional disturbance, related to guilt or anxiety. Others believe they reflect a toxic effect of alcohol on the brain. There are few data to support either concept. Blackouts usually occur erratically; comparable amounts of alcohol do not always produce memory loss, and it has not been possible to predict when an intoxicated person will suffer amnesia. During the amnesic interval, the person may function reasonably well and perform complicated acts, suggesting that the amnesia is retrograde2. To confirm this, however, memory must be observed systematically during drinking periods followed by amnesia, which heretofore has not been done.

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GOODWIN, D., OTHMER, E., HALIKAS, J. et al. Loss of Short Term Memory as a Predictor of the Alcoholic “Blackout”. Nature 227, 201–202 (1970).

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