September 28, 2018


How Trauma Affects Memory: Scientists Weigh In On The Kavanaugh Hearing (RHITU CHATTERJEE, 9/28/18, NPR)

Another factor that affects how memories are stored is alcohol use.

"Generally alcohol can make people forget things," says Mary Beth Miller, a clinical psychologist at the University of Missouri, Columbia who has studied the impact of alcohol consumption on making and retrieving memories.

Earlier this month, Ford told The Washington Post that she remembers Kavanaugh being "stumbling drunk" whereas she recalls having one beer that night.

Other accusers who did not testify Thursday have also suggested Kavanaugh was part of a group of friends who indulged in heavy drinking in the 1980s.

In his testimony, Kavanaugh said he likes beer, but he denied ever drinking so much that he didn't remember things.

Miller says memory loss from alcohol -- blackouts -- are very common among young people.

"In a blackout, you're walking around, talking to people," says Miller. "And a lot of times in a blackout people will be very coherent. You're just doing your thing, and people don't know, because it's hard to know if someone's in a blackout state."

These blackouts are what scientists call "fragmentary" blackouts, where someone has partial memory loss, but "you can usually recall, if someone reminds you later."

These fragmentary blackouts can occur at low blood alcohol concentrations, as low as 0.06, she says. (For comparison, the legal limit for driving is 0.08 in all states except Utah.)

Miller also says that animal studies suggest that "adolescent brains are actually more sensitive to the memory impairing effects of alcohol."

A permanent memory impairment, what scientists call "en bloc blackout," has a beginning and an end, says Miller, and the person cannot remember anything that happened in between. She says these typically occur at higher blood alcohol concentrations, around 0.24.

This is because higher amounts of alcohol prevent short-term memory from being converted to long-term memory, says Miller.

"And people with a history of heavy drinking are more likely to have more memory deficits," she adds. her choosing to hang around with blackout drunks if not drunk herself.

Posted by at September 28, 2018 5:38 PM