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What is blacking out?

Blackout drinking is also known as alcohol-induced amnesia. If you have ever engaged yourself in a night of drinking and then you find yourself remembering bits of what happened or can’t recall anything at all, then you might have experienced alcohol-induced amnesia.

Binge drinking, excessive alcohol consumption, and rapid alcohol intake are what causes a blackout. Blackout drinking is also caused by an immediate spike of blood level alcohol (BAC). An increased level of BAC stops the brain from creating new memories, leading an individual to consume alcohol and cannot comprehend what is happening around them.

Alcohol has different reactions and effects on people. For a person to experience a blackout, BAC must have reached 0.14 per cent. If you remember something, your brain gets the information from the long-term storage and puts it in short-term storage. Alcohol prevents transfer encoding, which is when memories are transferred from short-term to long-term.

Also, a blackout can be caused by:

It is important to note that blacking out is not the same as passing out because you can still function well when blacked out. The only difference is that you cannot recall what happened on the following day when you blackout.

For more information and assistance about alcohol addiction, please feel free to call us on 0203 955 7700, and our experienced specialists will help you come out of your addiction.

What are the different types of blackouts?

En Bloc blackouts– This is complete memory loss caused by a high level of BAC. Your brain will not be in a capacity to form new memories until the BAC level has reduced.

Fragmentary blackouts are also known as brownouts when a person remembers what happened partially, but you can retrieve some memories when triggered with the right cues.

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What are the signs of a blackout?

It is difficult to know if a person has blacked out because they will continue with their normal behaviour like drinking, eating or dancing. Nevertheless, there are some signs and symptoms that can help you identify if someone has blacked out, which are:

When someone is experiencing the above signs of a blackout, it is essential to have someone take you to a safe place to rest and ensure that you don’t take any more alcohol. If the individual shows other extreme signs of intoxication, you will need to visit a room for immediate treatment. 

Blackout Myths

Consuming a large amount of alcohol causes blackouts, but there are some myths that people have towards blackouts which are:

Your lost memory will come back: In reality, memory will not come back. The hippocampus, responsible for long-term memories, shuts down entirely due to chemical disruption in a blackout. Information that gets to the hippocampus is reduced, and there is a shutdown of neurons responsible for forming memories.

Besides, there is a void created during a blackout. There is no information stored, so memories lost in blackout will never come back.

Lightweights are the only ones affected by blackouts: It is not true that lightweights are the only ones affected by blackouts. Anyone who takes alcohol can experience a blackout. Experienced alcohol consumers don’t exhibit signs of intoxication on the outside, but they can take a lot of alcohol and reach high BAC and still walk when blacked out.

Inability to function during a blackout: Many people think that blackout is the same as passing out, which is false. You can still walk, drink, dance, and sing during a blackout and appear to be having a good time. Even so, you may have poor judgments and not be aware of them, making it difficult for people to warn you if you engage in risky behaviour. At this point, information transfer from short-term storage to long-term storage has been cut off.

Blackouts have nothing to do with long-term damage: Blackouts alone can’t cause harm; however, long-term drinking is hazardous, which results in fainting. In addition, the amount of alcohol you need to reach blackouts affects your decision-making and impulse control, leading to poor decision-making and injuring yourself.

Certain types of alcohol cause blackouts: There is a notion that if you take some type of alcohol, you will most likely experience a blackout. Certain types of alcohol, for example, tequila, is most associated with blackouts. Other people believe that certain alcohol brands can lead to blackout than others. In reality, the only thing that can cause a blackout is when BAC is on a high.

Preventing Blackouts

Blackouts commonly occur when an individual has taken a significant amount of alcohol, causing impaired judgments. If you mostly experience blackouts, it’s essential to abstain from alcohol. The following are ways in which you can prevent blackout drinking.

Eat well before and during alcohol intake. Food helps in reducing alcohol absorption in the bloodstream, hence reducing blood alcohol levels.

Drink water before taking alcohol. When you are thirsty, you will tend to consume a lot of alcohol quickly, leading to a blackout. Therefore, ensure that you are adequately hydrated before taking alcohol.

Don’t mix alcohol with other drugs or medications since this will increase intoxication, hence blackouts. Always look if there is a warning about alcohol on the label.

Don’t participate in drinking games since you will take a large amount of alcohol within a short period.

Be aware of the environment since a new environment increases alcohol resistance.

Have an ample sleep before taking alcohol

Don’t take direct shots but rather consume diluted alcohol

Take small amounts of alcohol. Consuming large quantities of alcohol at once will lead to a blackout.

Avoid drinking with strangers

Avoid smoking

What are the consequences of blacking out?

When someone is experiencing a blackout, they must have engaged in excessive alcohol consumption, which leads to impaired judgments. The complications of blackouts range from mild to severe, and they depend from one person to the other, which are:

What are the long-term consequences of blacking out?

Blackouts are caused mainly by binge drinking, which can bring about long-term health issues. For example, a person who takes alcohol frequently is most likely to develop an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder is a condition that can take months and years of management to prevent someone from relapsing.

Is blacking out a sign of addiction?

Blackouts can also happen to people who don’t have alcohol use disorder. Some people drink more alcohol and experience blackouts, while others with alcohol tolerance usually consume a lot of alcohol to get into a swoon. If blackouts become more frequent, they may be an addiction indication if they occur alongside the following symptoms of alcohol addiction:

a.    Taking alcohol in dangerous situations like before driving or swimming

b.    Developing alcohol tolerance hence taking a large amount of alcohol to get the desired effect

c.    A sudden stop to fun activities and hobbies

d.    Taking drink despite physical, social and psychological impacts of alcohol

e.    Avoiding family and friends to prevent been questioned

f.     Failure to meet your family or work duties

g.    Struggling with strong alcohol urges and cravings

h.    Regular withdrawal symptoms such as nausea and sweating

i.      Inability to reduce or cut off alcohol intake despite a willingness to do so

j.      Failure to control the amount of alcohol that you take

Additionally, having these symptoms together with blackouts and memory loss is a sign of alcohol use disorder. Therefore, it would be best if you had treatment to help you recover from the damage caused by alcohol in your body and brain.

Who is at risk of getting blackout?

Some people are likely to get blackouts more than others. For example, the blood alcohol level is expected to increase if you have a small body hence blackout. Also, genetics have been found to have a connection with blackouts. For this reason, you can take alcohol with your friends who have the same height and weight but find yourself experiencing a blackout. In this case, genetics might be the reason behind it.

Moreover, drinking to get intoxicated as much as possible can increase your chances of blackout. Blackouts are common in:

  • Adolescents
  • College students
  • Women


Adolescents
are primarily involved in binge drinking, and when they do so, they consume alcohol quickly. Adolescents don’t have a lot of experience in drinking; hence are not able to control the amount of alcohol intake.  Adolescents who engage in binge drinking and experience blackouts are prone to have memory loss later in life.

College students have an increased chance of blackouts due to binge drinking culture at colleges and universities. 75% of college students are estimated to be alcohol consumers, and each engages in binge drinking at least once every week. With this in mind, many students are likely to experience blackouts and engage in risky behaviours.

Women are prone to blackouts than men, even if they consume less amount of alcohol. The following are the reasons why women are at risk of blackouts than men:

        i. Studies show that women are affected by alcohol effects on the brain than men

      ii. Women have low water capacity in their bodies; hence alcohol is less diluted in the bloodstream

    iii. Alcohol dehydrogenase is less in women, which metabolises alcohol before absorption in the bloodstream.

    iv. Women have higher fat in their bodies than men, making alcohol stay longer in the bloodstream.

Blackouts and brain health

Blackouts are caused by alcohol can be very harmful to your brain. Research has shown that binge drinking and regular blackouts can affect your brain ability to learn new information. In addition, people who involved themselves in binge drinking were found to have a problem in their memory, affecting academic performance. This is because binge drinking causes damage to brain memory.

Regular blackouts

Experiencing weekly or monthly blackouts consistently doesn’t mean that you are suffering from alcohol use disorder. The best interaction you can have with alcohol is the ability to stop consumption. However, some situations and people can lead you to drink in excess, and you can do so in a safe environment. Still, if you cannot control alcohol in a normal situation and experience blackouts, you should check your body interaction with alcohol.

Alcohol consumption has hangovers, and memory problems effects can cause damages to people. When those impacts can’t make you stop alcohol intake, you can suffer from alcohol use disorder.

If you have started thinking about the effects of alcohol, that’s a good indication that it is. It is usual for you to have these feelings. Sadly, alcohol is very addictive; hence many people struggle to stop consumption.

The effects of alcohol can happen to anyone. Therefore, it is essential to constantly evaluate yourself and see whether you need to reduce alcohol intake or cut off alcohol altogether.

If you or your loved one is struggling with alcoholism, please call us on 0203 955 7700, and our experienced specialists will help you come out of your addiction.

Getting treatment for alcohol abuse and addiction

Blackouts are very common to people addicted to alcohol. Getting treatment for alcohol use disorder is the best way to prevent blackouts and other harmful effects.

The most successful way to treat alcohol addiction is through an alcohol detox program and inpatient treatment.

There is no perfect time to seek treatment and help. However, you can do it right now. Please call us on 0203 955 7700, and an experienced professional is ready to help you recover from alcohol abuse. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Blackout causes memory loss, but a person can continue with other activities such as drinking.
Blacking out can occur by taking a lot of alcohol very fast.
 

You are likely to blackout every time you take alcohol if BAC rises quickly, especially if you take a drink on an empty stomach.

Alcohol alters how a person thinks and can also cause memory loss.

Blackout can last for several minutes to few days.

A feeling of light-headedness, weakness and eventually fainting.

About Author

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.

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