An alcohol-induced blackout, commonly known as blacking out, happens when a person drinks too much alcohol. Unfortunately, this type of alcohol-induced amnesia is not an uncommon occurrence among drinkers. Alcohol-induced blackouts are dangerous and can cause the person to engage in risky or criminal activities without being able to remember anything the next day.
What is an Alcohol-Induced Blackout?
An alcohol-induced blackout is a temporary condition that causes the person to have gaps in their memory. They are not able to remember what happened while they were intoxicated. Memory gaps occur when a person consumes too much alcohol. Their brain is unable to transfer the storage of memories from short-term to long-term, called memory consolidation.
What Causes an Alcohol-Induced Blackout?
The legal limit of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08. Once a person’s BAC reaches about 0.16, the compound in alcohol that causes intoxication symptoms crosses the blood-brain barrier. It attacks the receptors where memories are stored in the brain’s hippocampus and blocks memory-making signals.
Two Types of Alcohol-induced Blackouts
There are two types of alcohol-induced blackouts. They are defined by the amount of memory loss a person experiences.
- Fragmentary blackout: This is the most common type of alcohol-induced blackout. It is also referred to as brownout or gray out. When a person experiences this type of blackout, they can recall portions of the events that occurred during the time they were intoxicated. Their memory is spotty. In some instances verbal or visual cues may help the person remember the events that occurred while they were intoxicated.
- En bloc or complete blackout: This type of alcohol-induced blackout is complete amnesia. It can last for hours. During this type of blackout, the person is unable to recall anything that happened during the time they were intoxicated. The memories of the events never form and cannot be recovered.
The Difference Between Passing Out and Blacking Out
A person loses consciousness when they pass out. They typically do not respond to stimuli such as being touched or spoken to. When a person is experiencing an alcohol-induced blackout, they may appear relatively coherent and normal. They may continue to drink, hold conversations, make decisions, prepare and eat food, or start arguments. They appear conscious but will not be able to remember anything that happened.
Who Is Most At-Risk of Blacking Out?
Alcohol-induced blackouts typically begin when blood alcohol concentrations are about 0.16 or higher. When alcohol enters the bloodstream quickly, it causes the BAC to rise rapidly, making an alcohol-induced blackout more likely to occur. This can occur when a person drinks a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, or drinks on an empty stomach. Binge drinkers, heavy drinkers, and people who drink and use marijuana or take sedatives, anti-anxiety, or pain medications are at a higher risk of blacking out.
The Dangers of Alcohol-induced Blackouts
The amount of alcohol a person needs to drink for an alcohol-induced blackout to occur may lead to dangerous or high-risk behavior, resulting in harmful or possible life-threatening situations. With high blood alcohol content levels, the individual most likely is having difficulty walking, talking, and standing. Their vision, judgment, and decision-making skills are likely impaired. Yet they may decide to drive, engage in unprotected or non-consensual sex, or take part in criminal activity. They are more likely to be in vehicle crashes, become victims of crimes, and be injured in falls.
According to HealthLine, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that even having even one alcohol-induced blackout can be dangerous. The person’s alcohol intake delays the signals that control their autonomic responses, including their gag reflex. If they vomit while they are sleeping and have a loss of gag reflex control, they could choke and suffocate on their vomit.
When heavy drinking causes alcohol-induced blackouts, there are long-term health issues affecting the brain. Blackouts can cause degenerative problems affecting the brain’s frontal lobe. When the frontal lobe is repeatedly damaged from blackouts, it can impair the person’s memory retention, ability to perform tasks, and personality and behavior.
Psychologically, alcohol-induced blackouts may result in feelings of anxiety or depression regarding the lost memories from alcohol use. Unless excessive drinking stops, a person’s symptoms may result in chronic mental health conditions.
We Can Help
If you or someone you care about is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, our skilled professionals at English Mountain Recovery are ready to help. Located in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, our residential treatment center offers gender-specific treatment services for emotional, physical, and spiritual healing. Contact us today.