Kevin Price drove the wrong way on the Garden State Parkway which led to the death of five people in a head-on collision. Michael Newbury awoke with a bloody hammer in his hand, the mutilated body of his girlfriend nearby. Paul Cox allegedly entered a Larchmont, NY, home where he formerly lived and stabbed a sleeping couple to death.
None of these people remember doing any of these acts for which they were sentenced — and they never will. All were in an alcohol blackout, one of the more common effects of drinking, suffered by millions on any given day.
The blackout has long been associated with advanced alcoholism, but it is now known that blackouts can occur to moderate, social and first-time drinkers. It is at least theoretically possible to blackout and still pass the police sobriety test.
People in a blackout do not forget what happened, as widely believed. They will never remember, because alcohol blocked their ability to form memory.
Without memory formation, they cannot learn, think, plan or decide anything, even to come in out of the rain. They do not know where they are, what they are doing, even what time it is. They could have married the stranger lying in bed next to them, run up huge bills on credit cards, gambled away life savings, sold their business, killed people. They will never remember any of it. They are unconscious in any real sense of the word. They are a menace to themselves and all others.
Yet their pre-blackout memory remains intact, enabling them to walk, talk, drive, travel, quarrel, get into fights, wield a knife or hammer—and never know it. There are reports of an airline pilot flying passengers cross-country and a physician performing surgery while blacked out.
Blackouts devastate individuals and families, and the price tag is enormous. Yet the police and courts, doctors and hospitals, know little or nothing about them. Blackouts have fallen through the cracks of medicine. The research most often cited is 35 years out of date and does not reflect current neuroscience. Such neglect and misrepresentation can no longer be tolerated.