Everything You Need to Know About Blackout Drinking

By Michaela Weaver

During festivities, many people will exclaim, “Let’s drink until we pass out!” In recent years, this has prompted numerous individuals to drink to the point of blacking out, an act that has earned prominence in popular culture. Alcohol-induced blackouts can impair recollection of events that occurred while intoxicated and dramatically raise the risk of injuries and other hazards. They can occur in anyone who consumes alcohol, regardless of age or level of expertise. This article discusses what occurs during alcohol-induced blackouts and how to prevent them.

Blackouts caused by alcohol are gaps in a person’s recall of events that occurred when they were intoxicated. When a person consumes enough alcohol, a region of the brain called the hippocampus momentarily blocks the transfer of memories from short-term to long-term storage, often known as memory consolidation. There are two distinct types of power outages:

“En Bloc” Blackout

A total blackout occurs when someone cannot recollect several hours of time due to a high blood alcohol concentration. A person cannot generate new memories until their BAC has decreased.

Intermittent Blackouts

Sometimes referred to as “brownouts,” fragmented blackouts occur when only certain events or brief periods of time are lost to memory. When asked, a person who has a fragmented blackout is likely to recall something.

A person undergoing a blackout may be more likely to engage in harmful or risky activity. Included in this category are intoxicated driving, property destruction, and unplanned sexual encounters. Once sober, a person in a blackout will have no memory of these actions.

The Reasons Behind An Alcohol-Induced Blackout

The primary cause of an alcohol blackout is binge drinking. The more alcohol a person consumes in a given period of time, the greater the likelihood that he or she will experience a blackout. Ultimately, a blackout is caused by a sudden increase in blood alcohol concentration.

It is believed that when blood alcohol levels increase, the brain becomes incapable of converting short-term memories into long-term memories. This means that during a blackout, a person may be able to recall an event a few minutes after it occurred, but may forget it several hours later. Consuming alcohol when dehydrated or on an empty stomach increases the likelihood of experiencing a blackout.

This is due to the fact that under these settings, blood alcohol levels rise significantly more rapidly than when a person is hydrated or has recently eaten. Additionally, a person’s weight, gender, and the type of alcohol taken can affect the likelihood of experiencing a blackout.

Blackout and passing out are interchangeable terms, however a blackout is distinct from passing out, which refers to falling asleep or losing consciousness due to excessive alcohol consumption.

A person is awake during a blackout, but their brain is not producing new memories. Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, a person may shift from blacking out to passing out.

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What Occurs During an Alcohol-Induced Blackouts?

The hippocampus in the brain is incapable of forming long-term memories during a blackout. Thus, alcohol hinders your capacity to walk, speak, react, and recall past events. In addition, it reduces inhibition, impairs impulse control, and impacts decision-making.

The brain’s reward circuit regulates these functions. Although this portion of the brain can develop a long-term tolerance to alcohol, the hippocampus cannot.

The hippocampus is located in the center of the brain. It is crucial for memory formation. Alcohol tolerance cannot develop in the hippocampus over time. This means that it cannot develop memories during a blackout.

It is essential to note that a blackout is distinct from passing out. A person who passes out has either fallen asleep or gone unconscious due to excessive alcohol consumption.

An intoxicated individual can nevertheless function normally during a blackout. They may appear articulate due to the fact that the majority of their brain is alcohol-tolerant. They are still able to eat, move, hold conversations, engage in sexual activity, drive, and fight. They just cannot record any recollections.

This seeming state of consciousness can make it difficult for others to notice a blackout. Some individuals are more likely than others to use alcohol. Men in their middle years who deal with drinking have an elevated risk for blackouts. College-aged students are another group at risk. This is primarily the result of social pressure and conditions, not physiological.

In addition, women are more susceptible to blackouts than men. This has a lot to do with the difference between how women’s and men’s bodies digest alcohol. People who take sedatives like Xanax and OxyContin are also more susceptible to blackouts. Alcohol enhances the effect of these sedatives on the brain’s capacity for memory formation.

Can Blackouts Cause Complications?

There may be persistent repercussions of heavy drinking on the brain. These effects range from temporary memory “lapses” to persistent, crippling illnesses. It is believed that persistent alcohol drinking is detrimental to the frontal lobe.

This region of the brain regulates cognitive performance. The frontal lobe is also involved in the generation and retrieval of short- and long-term memories. Damage to the frontal lobe can impact your behavior and personality, as well as your ability to complete activities and retain information.

It is believed that binge drinking can affect this brain region. Drinking excessively can hinder your abilities to: walk steadily, make decisions, and use self-control. You may also encounter: migraines, dry mouth, nausea and diarrhea

Even a single blackout can be hazardous. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that alcohol delays brain impulses that control the gag reflex and other autonomic reflexes.

Due to the loss of reflex control, a person who has lost consciousness or overdosed on alcohol may vomit while asleep. This could result in them choking and suffocating on their own vomit. A blackout also increases your risk of injury, such as from a fall or automobile accident.

Taking sedatives and ingesting alcohol together can increase the likelihood of blacking out. Because benzodiazepines such as alprazolam and opioids such as oxycodone activate the GABA neurotransmitter, this is the case.

This causes your body to become more relaxed and slow down. Sedatives, like alcohol, can impede your capacity to think and form memories.

Impact of Blackout on the Human Body

Alcohol influences the body in numerous ways. This is determined by the degree of intoxication and the duration of alcohol abuse. Typically, these can be classified as either short-term or long-term.

Brief Consequences of Blackouts

During a blackout, a person will continue to operate quite normally. They are still able to interact with others and make decisions, but cannot record memories. People may experience the following effects:

  • lisping speech
  • Having trouble walking
  • Delayed responses
  • Enhanced impulsivity
  • Poor decision-making
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • dryness of the mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Even if they are unaware, all of these signs indicate that a person may be undergoing a blackout.

Long-Term Effects of Power Outages

Many individuals are unaware that binge drinking can have a permanent impression on the brain. Some of these disorders, such as memory loss, are transient. Others, like liver disease, are irreversible.

Regular heavy drinking can harm the frontal lobe. This can have an impact on your capacity to complete activities, your memory, your personality, and your overall conduct.

Although you may believe that occasional blackouts are OK, they can be detrimental in the long run. Your gag reflex is impaired during a blackout, which could cause you to gag or choke in your sleep.

In addition, blackouts increase the risk of damage. During a blackout, you are more likely to fall or get into a car accident.

Preventing An Alcoholic Blackout

Drinking less is the most effective approach to prevent an alcohol blackout. Many individuals can avoid blacking out by taking only one or two alcoholic beverages per hour and water between each drink. Other preventative measures against alcohol blackouts include:

  • consume food before consuming alcohol
  • Avoid alcohol “shots” and “chugging.”
  • Slowly sip water and maintain hydration while consuming alcohol.

Knowing the symptoms and indicators can also reduce the likelihood of a blackout. If you have difficulty keeping up with a discussion or remembering things, you should endeavor to sober up to avoid passing out.

Takeaway

Those who abuse or are addicted to alcohol frequently experience blackouts. Seeking therapy for alcohol use disorder is the most effective method for preventing blackouts and other potentially dangerous outcomes.

If you’re seeking help cutting back on or quitting drinking, online our expert coaching programs are here for you. The Alcohol Coach can help. 

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Please note: Although we refer to ‘alcoholism’ and ‘recovery’ in our articles, this is because these terms are often used by others. 

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Hi, I'm Michela

I’m a leader in the science of transformational freedom for women, and someone previously addicted to alcohol. I have walked the path. I understand your concerns and fears. Here you will find some of my thoughts and insights. Happy browsing!

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Michaela Weaver

Michaela is the world's leading authority for enabling highly successful women to embrace their true, alcohol-free, authentic selves in a world where alcohol is normalised for those who are successful.Her ground-breaking science-based methods using The Science of Transformational Freedom, result in the revelation of uncovering The Social Secret®, so that high achieving woman can joyfully live their lives free from alcohol – but also thrive in all aspects of their work and personal life without it.

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