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Addiction and Substance Abuse

Blackouts and inaccurate memories

06/11/2008

Question:

My husband is an alcoholic. He recently went on a binge. When drinking he can consume huge, huge amounts of alcohol. He does experience blackouts during these binges. The last few times, after a blackout - he would begin trying to recount what happened. He becomes obsessed with finding out every detail. He begins with a memory and adds to it until he has what he thinks are "real" memories. My question is - can a person - "create" false memories? His "memories" are extremely unbelievable - and I know they are not true - however he really believes them. They are terrible "memories" and he then begins tormenting himself that he could have done such a thing. Again, when I say they are unbelievable - they are. Stuff you might see in the movies. So, have you heard of this before? Where can I find information? He is very, very tormented - and I am getting scared that he is actually believing this stuff.

Answer:

To try to answer your question - "Can a person create false memories?" - in the case of a person with severe alcoholism, I would say that the answer is yes.

There is a syndrome known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which results from a thiamine deficiency (Vitamin B-1) that is frequently seen in heavy drinkers. In the chronic phase of this illness, a person may "confabulate" (make up or invent information to compensate for poor memory). Interestingly, they are not "lying," but they may actually believe the invented explanation. I am not sure if this is what is happening with your husband, but it is one possible explanation.

In some cases, if the illness is caught early enough, treatment with thiamine and other vitamins may be helpful. You may want to consult with a neurologist to see if this option would help your husband.

A helpful resource can be found on the web at the Family Caregiver Alliance. See the link below. 

Related Resources:

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

For more information:

Go to the Addiction and Substance Abuse health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Christina M Delos Reyes, MD Christina M Delos Reyes, MD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University