Most people will consume alcohol at some point in their lives. Alcohol is incredibly accessible, socially accepted, and in many settings, nearly impossible to avoid. However, while some people find it easy to moderate their alcohol consumption, others face a near-constant, overwhelming urge to drink.
For many of these individuals, drinking is all about getting intoxicated. Once they start, they can’t seem to stop. Whenever large amounts of alcohol are consumed within a short period of time, its effects on brain functioning are both startling and extreme. Also known as binge drinking, the act of overwhelming the body with lots of alcohol all at once interrupts its ability to form new memories.
When this happens, this is known as an alcoholic blackout. It can leave people completely unable to remember where they were, who they were with, and what they were doing. An alcohol blackout can last just minutes, or it can last for several days.
Alcoholic Blackouts Are Dangerous
The dangers of blacking out while drinking are numerous. When drinking, people generally have lower inhibitions, a false sense of social confidence, and a desire to interact with others. Even though people experiencing blackouts won’t remember their actions, this doesn’t mean that they’re inactive. During an alcohol blackout a person might:
- Start fights
- Engage in high-risk sexual behaviors
- Drive while intoxicated
Waking up from a blackout can be scary. Family members and friends might be angry with you for something that you’ve said or done while blacked out. They may be left wondering how they can help. You may have no idea of who you’re with, where you are, or how you’ve gotten there. You’ll also have a pervasive sense that significant time has been lost and that the consequences of your unremembered actions are looming just around the corner.
Why Do You Blackout When Drinking
People who routinely binge drink have the highest likelihood of experiencing blackouts, but blackouts can occur anytime the body’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is extremely high. Blackouts typically occur after a person’s BAC has reached or exceeded 0.22 percent. Although experiences with blackouts can vary significantly from one individual to the next. The more a person drinks, the longer a blackout can last.
When you’re sober, your brain uses a process known as transfer encoding to turn sensory input into short-term memory. Your short-term memories are then converted into long-term memories via a similar process.
In short, your brain logs what you see, hear, smell, and do. This helps you remember where you’ve been, who you’ve spoken to, and the actions you’ve taken. When you remember a specific time or event, the memory is retrieved from your brain’s long-term memory storage, and essentially relived. According to research, binge drinking disrupts your brain’s transfer encoding abilities, and its ability to retrieve memories from both short-term and long-term storage.
Complete Blackouts Vs. Fragmented Blackout
There are two types of alcohol-induced blackouts that a person can experience. These are called complete blackouts and fragmentary or partial blackouts. With a complete blackout, memory loss is total, and memories of events cannot be retrieved with any manner of prompting.
With a partial or fragmentary blackout, a person may not remember what happened during a blackout episode right away. That being said, certain cues can eventually trigger partial recollection. Fragmentary blackouts are the most common type of blackout events.
It\’s additionally important to note that blacking out while drinking is not the same as passing out. A person who blacks out while drinking will remain awake and active. People who blackout can continue making decisions and interacting with others.
Worse still, may even continue to drink. Conversely, a person who passes out becomes unconscious. This individual will not respond to outside stimuli. While both states are inherently dangerous and leave people vulnerable to assault, medical problems, and other types of harm, they are distinctly different.
The Connection to Binge Drinking
In social settings in which binge drinking has been normalized, people often fail to recognize the seriousness of blackouts. On college campuses all throughout the nation, many students routinely blackout during weekend parties and other social events. Blackouts, however, are not merely a side effect of heavy drinking. They are a sign that the body is becoming increasingly less able to tolerate the effects of excess alcohol consumption.
They can additionally mean that a person is no longer able to control the amount of alcohol that he or she consumes. This indicates a very high risk of developing alcohol poisoning. Although many people experience and eventually recover from blackouts, a single blackout event can lead to lasting physical damages and even death.
Due to its connection to binge drinking, blacking out while drinking is associated with a number of health issues. These include:
- Heart disease, liver disease, and other chronic ailments
- Long-term learning and memory issues
- Increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases
- Increased risk of unwanted or unplanned pregnancy
- Increased risk of serious physical injuries due to violence, drunk-driving, and impaired motor skills
Extremely intoxicated individuals have significant balance and coordination issues. Even standing and walking short distances can lead to trip and fall accidents, concussions, lacerations, bruises, and more. There are also many social consequences that people are likely to face as the result of blacking out while drinking.
Someone who has blacked out while drinking might face DUI, sexual assault, or battery charges. They may simply say something incredibly hurtful to a concerned parent, spouse, friend, or child. When people have blacked out, they are totally at the mercy of alcohol. With severely impaired judgment and the ability to continue taking actions and engaging with others, anything can happen.
The descent into alcoholism is usually a gradual one. Many people start drinking in a purely social capacity. Often referred to as “liquid courage”, alcohol provides a false sense of confidence. People may feel more socially competent and outgoing when they drink.
Over time, this can lead to drinking more to increase the pleasurable feelings that alcohol provides and to overcome any developing physical tolerance to alcohol. Many people who regularly drink, and experience significant personal and social consequences as a result, often have a hard time admitting that they have drinking problems. However, blacking is a sure sign that help is needed.
Often referred to as alcohol-induced amnesia, an alcoholic blackout out means that the body and the brain are in an extreme state of distress. Even experiencing a single alcoholic blackout event means that you’ve lost control over your actions, and ultimately over your life. Anything can happen during the minutes, hours, or even days that a blackout spans.
Moreover, the consequences can be both immediate and permanent. If you’ve experienced an alcoholic blackout and recognize that you can’t stop drinking on your own, we’re here to help. Call Mississippi Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center today to learn more about our treatment options. We can help you find the right inpatient or outpatient program.