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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Hypnotizing the Memory

Q. Can hypnosis help restore memory lost in a alcohol or drug induced blackout?

A. Despite a literature search, I could find no studies at all in which hypnosis was used to recover memories lost in an alcoholic blackout. This might stem from the general presumption that--unlike memory loss related to psychological trauma, in which repression of painful material is likely--alcohol-induced blackouts are organic in nature. That is, the memory loss is due to the toxic effects of alcohol upon the brain.

Most intriguing, however, is the observation that some events during a blackout may sometimes be recalled when the alcoholic is once again intoxicated! Not all data support this claim, but some studies by Goodwin et al (1969) point toward a kind of state-dependent learning that may go on during an alcohol-induced blackout, which is re-kindled, so to speak, when the individual is again intoxicated. Please note I am absolutely not recommending this procedure!

For more information on alcoholic blackouts, the best source I know is WA Lishman's classic text, Organic Psychiatry, 3rd edition, 1998 (Oxford).

February, 2001

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