Kavanaugh 'blackout theory' explained

The blackout theory is being bandied about as a way to reconcile the competing narratives presented by Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, but what exactly is the science behind it?


NSFW    WASHINGTON D.C. — As Judge Brett Kavanaugh continues to deny allegations put forth by Christine Blasey Ford, a theory has been presented attempting to reconcile the two competing narratives.

The 'blackout theory' suggests both parties are telling the truth, meaning Kavanaugh did in fact assault Ford, but doesn't remember it due to an alcohol-induced blackout.

Here, we try to explain the science behind blackouts, and how excessive alcohol intake can affect the memory.

Blood alcohol concentration refers to the amount of alcohol present in the bloodstream, measured by the weight of ethanol, in grams, per 100 milliliters of blood.

Blackouts can occur when the alcohol level in the blood reaches 0.20, which on average is about 4 drinks for women, and 5 for men, according to a report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. But to understand how this happens, we need to first look at memory consolidation.

In the hippocampus, short-term memories are converted into long-term ones through the persistent strengthening of synapses, a process known as long-term potentiation.

These synapses pass signals through neurotransmitters like glutamate and gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA. For a signal to fire, the receiving neuron must have a higher positive charge.

Glutamate binds to neuroreceptors and opens it for positive ions, triggering signal firing. GABA, meanwhile, allows in negative ions, which momentarily blocks this action.

Alcohol increases GABA activity, causing it to inhibit signals more often and longer than usual. This prolonged depressant effect impacts consolidation, preventing long-term storage of memories.

Alcoholic blackouts may be fragmentary, in which memory loss is partial, or en bloc, in which stretches of time are completely missing from a person's memory.

Complete blackouts occur around 0.30 BAC. By 0.35, individuals could go into a coma, and at 0.40, the concentration is lethal, typically killing half of all adults who reach it.

If anything, the Kavanaugh case at least helps highlight the dangers of too much booze and though it shouldn't be an excuse for crappy behavior, it's not something to be taken lightly, either.
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