Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a blackout characterized by memory loss as a direct consequence of binge drinking. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 25% of grownups binge drink each month. They report that over 50% of adults have experienced blackouts from drinking.
Some people may think that blackout drinking is a normal part of alcohol consumption. However, it is important to understand the potential risks of blacking out. People who find themselves blacking out often may consider talking to a professional about their drinking patterns.
What Is Blacking Out?
Alcohol-associated blackouts are gaps in an individual’s memory where they cannot remember any events that occurred while intoxicated. Alcohol-induced blackouts happen when alcohol intake reaches a level high enough to block the transfer of memories from short-term to long-term storage.
Types of Blackouts
There are two types of blackouts. The severity of memory loss defines these types.
- Fragmentary blackout: This is the most common type and is often characterized by a partial recollection of events that occurred during the blackout.
- Complete/en bloc blackout: With this type of blackout, memories are typically never recovered, almost as if the events never occurred.
When Does a Blackout Occur?
Blackouts usually occur when blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches 0.16% or higher. When a person consumes large amounts of alcohol in a short period, the concentration of alcohol in the blood increases. At this high BAC, many cognitive functions like decision-making and judgment are significantly impaired.
Blackouts can occur at a lower BAC for people who drink while taking anti-anxiety medication. Research has shown that blackouts from drinking are more likely to happen when alcohol enters the bloodstream quicker, causing BAC to rise drastically. This can occur if a person consumes a lot of alcohol in a short time or if someone drinks on an empty stomach.
Since blackouts happen at high BACs, they commonly arise from binge drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) depicts binge drinking as when a woman consumes four or more alcoholic drinks, or a man consumes five or more drinks in two hours.
Signs and Symptoms of Blackouts from Drinking
Since most people continue to engage in conversation and don’t act out of character, it can be challenging to determine when someone is experiencing a blackout. It is also possible that someone may be highly intoxicated but not experiencing a blackout. Some of the symptoms and signs that someone is blacking out include:
- Slurred speech
- Loss of vision
- Impaired judgment and partaking in risky behaviors
- Repeating oneself several times during a conversation
- Struggling to talk or keep up with a conversation
- Being easily distracted
- Difficulty walking
What Happens During a Blackout?
When a person blacks out, the hippocampus cannot form long-term memories. As a result, a person cannot remember events that occurred despite participating in them. However, some people who experience blackouts from drinking can still walk, talk, eat, and perform many other normal functions as many parts of the brain can resist the effects of alcohol and continue to function normally despite high BACs.
Essentially, everyone experiences a blackout differently. Some people struggle to talk or walk properly, while others appear completely normal, making it hard to determine whether someone is experiencing a blackout when acting normally.
It is important to note that a blackout does not mean a loss of consciousness. However, losing consciousness is also a potential side effect of binge drinking.
Who Is At Risk of a Blackout?
Research has shown that middle-aged alcoholic males are more prone to blackouts from drinking. However, anyone who drinks too much alcohol is at risk for blackouts.
Young adults in universities and colleges are also at risk. This risk is linked to their heavy drinking habits. Studies have also found that women are at a higher risk of blacking out even though they take less alcohol than men. This may be due to physiological differences like weight and enzyme levels that affect alcohol distribution in the body.
How to Prevent Blackouts
Besides abstaining from alcohol, reducing alcohol intake is key to preventing blackouts. Avoiding binge drinking is also important. Other steps you can take include:
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach
- Drink slowly.
- Consider drinking a glass of water between drinks to limit alcohol intake
Effects of Excessive Drinking
Excessive drinking can impact the body in several ways. People who drink excessively are likely to experience health problems commonly associated with alcohol abuse. Some of the health risks associated with excessive drinking can be quite severe.
The long-term effects of alcohol abuse include:
- Liver damage
- Heart problems
- Liver cancer
Dangers of Blackout Drinking
Due to the high level of alcohol intake during blackout drinking, decision-making and other psychological brain functions are likely to be impaired during this period. Since a person may appear completely normal during a blackout, it can be difficult to know whether they are experiencing a blackout. Blackout drinking can have negative consequences such as:
- Alcohol poisoning: Blackout drinkers are at a higher risk of alcohol poisoning, which can be lethal.
- Assault: A blackout drinker is more likely to become a perpetrator or victim of sexual or physical assault due to impaired judgment.
- Injuries: Blackout drinkers are likely to start fights and engage in other risky behaviors, leading to injuries.
- Car accidents: Blackout drinkers are likely to get into car accidents because they are not in the right state of mind,
- Unsafe sex: Due to impaired judgment, a blackout drinker is more likely to have unprotected sex, leading to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Even blacking out once can be risky to drinkers. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol intake delays brain signals that control gag reflex and other such reactions. A blacked-out person could vomit in their sleep due to loss of gag reflex and potentially choke on their vomit.
In a nutshell, drinking to the point of blacking out can have lasting effects on the brain. If you find yourself engaging in this risky behavior, it might be time to seek professional help. You might be pleasantly surprised when you finally realize the benefits of quitting alcohol.
There Is Hope: Overcome Blackout Drinking at Restore Detox Centers
Recovery is an excellent opportunity to understand the reasons behind your alcoholism so you can start healing. Taking that first step can be daunting. However, the team at Restore Detox Centers is here to support you through your journey to overcome alcoholism.
Our specialists are always here to help you figure out what you need to do to get on the right path.
If you or a loved one is struggling with blackout drinking and need our services, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our team is ready to help and discuss treatment options with you.