Do you ever laugh at the "enjoy responsibly" tag line alcohol commercials include? No offense to my fellow college students who enjoy booze, but most of our drinking occasions are anything but "responsible." Blacking out as a result of binge drinking is definitely not responsible.

It's safe to say that most college students aren't drinking just to enjoy a good beverage. The numbers don't lie: as much as 80% of college students drink with the intention of getting drunk and 46% have experienced a blackout while drinking.

The Same Old Sh*t

soda, whisky, juice, beer, wine, ice, liquor, vodka, alcohol
Alex Frank

You probably didn't come here for me to lecture you about all the negative side effects of alcohol abuse and blackouts you've been hearing in health class since you were ten. But some of the numbers and stats are shocking enough to hear again.

When it comes to college students, 690,000 have been assaulted by a fellow student who has been drinking and 97,000 have been sexually assaulted. And 599,000 students have been injured while under the influence, resulting in over 1,800 unintentional alcohol related deaths.

Then there's the less harmless albeit annoying side effects of drinking. The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence found that 25% of students have said drinking has interfered with their schoolwork. Memory loss caused by blacking out can be scary if you don't have someone helping you through the night.

The Science of a Blackout

stout, alcohol, liquor, beer
Alex Frank

Blacking out is a lot different from losing consciousness. It's a complicated form of amnesia. For a short period of time, you can't form new memories but are able to recall events that happened before your amnesia began. 

You can actually experience one of two different kinds of blackouts—en bloc or fragmentary. Fragmentary blackouts result in the loss of only some memories. En bloc blackouts occur when you can't recall anything that happened from the time your amnesia began.

Both cause a literal block in your brain. You aren't able to turn your short term memories into long term memories due to the way alcohol effects your hippocampus, a part of the brain necessary in encoding memories. 

The Permanent Blackout 

Table Full of Red Solo Cups of Water 2012 Grand Rapids Montessori Picnic June 07, 2012 1

stevendepolo on Flickr

While one blackout may not have detrimental health effects, there is a condition that has been dubbed the "permanent blackout." It results from a combination of alcohol abuse and nutrient deficiencies. 

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is a brain disorder consisting of two conditions—Wernicke encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome—that often occur together.

Together, these conditions can cause bleeding in your brain that results in chronic, permanent brain damage. Symptoms may include vision impairment, loss of muscle function, seizures, and permeant loss of memories and the inability to form new memories.

cider, alcohol, ice, liquor, juice, beer
Missy Miller

According to Dr. Edith Sullivan and Dr. Adolf Pfefferbaum, the most common precursor of WKS is chronic alcoholism. Many other factors can increase your risk of developing the condition, but there is no denying that the number one cause is alcoholism. 

One blackout is not going to lead to you developing WKS. However, 20% of college students currently meet the criteria that classifies them as having an alcohol use disorder. One of these criteria is continuing to use alcohol even after having a blackout that causes memory loss. 

Developing these poor habits early in life may increase the risk of chronic alcoholism later in life. Blackouts themselves can cause immediate, short term damage to the brain. It's the mentality we have towards blackouts that may lead to something more serious, like WKS. 

wine, coffee, beer
Alex Frank

Maybe we need a new mentality toward "enjoying responsibly." It's very unlikely all college students will stop their binge drinking habits any time soon, but it's your responsibility to look at the way you use alcohol.

Ask yourself these important questions to be sure your alcohol habits don't cause damage to your physical or mental health. Other than that, when it comes to how much and how frequently you drink alcohol, I say you do you