Alcohol-Induced Blackouts: Signs, Causes & Dangers
Last Updated: November 3, 2023
Blackouts occur when you cannot form memories because of the excessive amount of alcohol in your body.
Many people use alcohol socially and are able to avoid drinking too much. However, when consumed in excess, alcohol can lead to many alarming consequences. An alcohol-induced blackout is one. Anyone who drinks heavily should be aware of what an alcohol-induced blackout is and the implications it holds.
What Does “Blacking Out” Mean?
“Blacking out” refers to a period where an individual cannot recall events after consuming alcohol, even though they were conscious and active during that time. It’s as if a part of their memory has been erased. This doesn’t mean they were unconscious; rather, their brain failed to store memories during that period. When you black out, you will not be able to recall anything that happened during the blackout, no matter how hard you try. You never made the memory in the first place.
Blacking Out & the Brain
When you drink alcohol in large quantities, it can interfere with the brain’s ability to form new memories. The hippocampus, a region in the brain responsible for memory formation, is particularly sensitive to alcohol. Excessive drinking can disrupt its functioning, leading to gaps in memory or complete blackouts. The more you drink, the more likely it is to affect the hippocampus.
Symptoms of an Alcohol Blackout
The main symptom of an alcohol blackout is the inability to recall things that happened when you were present and awake. Blackouts can be partial or complete depending on how affected your hippocampus is. Someone with a partial blackout will be able to recall pieces of what happened, while a complete blackout means that no memories were formed.
Someone actively experiencing a blackout will appear to be functioning normally, as they will be able to make short-term memories. These short-term memories, however, will not turn into long-term memories. This means that they may suddenly seem forgetful or may begin repeating things they said minutes ago. They may also be unable to perform tasks that require remembering things for more than a few minutes.
Causes of Blackouts
The one and only cause of an alcoholic blackout is drinking enough alcohol to interfere with the formation of long-term memories. This occurs when the amount of alcohol in your blood reaches a certain level. This level can be different for everyone and may even be different for the same person at different times.
While high blood alcohol levels are what cause a blackout, there are several factors that can lead to increased blood alcohol levels. Drinking beverages back-to-back or high-proof beverages can increase your blood alcohol level more quickly. Drinking on an empty stomach or mixing alcohol with medicine or drugs can also increase your blood alcohol levels.
Dangers of Blacking Out
Blacking out can have many potential negative implications. Someone blacking out may experience problems in the moment, especially if they are doing something that requires remembering recent events of more than a few minutes ago.
Most of the problems caused by blackouts, however, happen later. Being unable to remember things that occurred has serious consequences. Examples include making financial decisions, doing something illegal, having intercourse or getting injured. The inability to recall circumstances like these can lead to complications or problems later.
Preventing Alcohol Blackouts
The only sure way to prevent alcohol blackouts is to avoid drinking alcohol in quantities that might cause a blackout. While avoiding alcohol altogether is the best way to do this, there are some tips that can help prevent alcoholic blackouts:
- Don’t drink alcohol on an empty stomach
- Don’t combine alcohol and medications or drugs
- Space your drinks out
- Avoid high-proof alcohol
- Keep careful track of how much you drink
- Be aware of how any health problems affect your alcohol metabolism
- Set a limit and be accountable
Following these tips can help prevent your blood alcohol levels from becoming too high and reduce your risk of blackouts.
Get Help for Alcohol Misuse & Addiction
Blacking out while drinking can be an indicator that your relationship with alcohol is problematic. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol misuse, it’s essential to seek help.
At The Recovery Village Kansas City, we understand the difficulties those struggling with alcohol addiction face. Our compassionate staff and state-of-the-art facilities provide you with the safest, most relaxing environment possible. Our programs are designed to help you achieve the best results. Contact us today to learn how we can help you reach lasting freedom from alcohol addiction.
FAQs on Blackout Drinking
Can someone appear normal during a blackout?
Yes, individuals can often function and interact normally, making it hard for others to recognize they’re in a blackout. It is often impossible to tell that a blackout has occurred until someone is unable to remember something after an episode of drinking.
Are blackouts a sign of alcoholism?
While not everyone who experiences a blackout has an alcohol use disorder, frequent blackouts can be a sign of problematic drinking. Having a blackout doesn’t necessarily mean that alcoholism is present, but it can serve as a red flag and a sign to bring up the question.
Can blackouts cause permanent memory loss?
Typically, memory loss from a blackout is permanent. This memory loss is very limited and only covers the time when blood alcohol levels are past a certain point. Alcohol can, however, lead to other conditions that may cause more serious, long-term memory loss.
MedlinePlus. “Alcohol.” March 22, 2022. Accessed August 16, 2023.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol’s Effects on Health.” February 2023. Accessed August 16, 2023.
DiBello, Angelo M., et al. “Opportunities for reducing college drinking: The roles of drinking attitudes and blackout experience.” Alcohol Clinical & Experimental Research, June 04, 2021. Accessed August 16, 2023.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Use and Your Health.” April 14, 2022. Accessed August 16, 2023.