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Alcohol Blackouts: What Are They?

You may have experienced it before — forgetting what happened as you were drinking. You might wonder what causes alcohol blackouts, and the short answer is that it’s the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol. This leads to lapses in memory, even as you are fully conscious. 

With alcohol blackouts becoming more frequent, here is a more detailed guide on the subject, so that you can avoid it at all costs.

Signs and Symptoms Of An Alcohol Blackout

If you or someone you are with is experiencing an alcohol blackout, there are signs and symptoms to look out for. 

  • Vision changes
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty speaking or slurring of speech
  • Muscle spasms
  • Vomiting 
  • Mood shifts
  • Poor coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Slow reflexes

What Causes An Alcohol Blackout?

An alcohol blackout is caused by binge drinking, but when you mix alcohol with substances or medications such as benzodiazepines, you may also experience a blackout. These usually happen when your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is around 0.16%, which is double the legal limit when you are driving. 

Alcohol blackouts can happen in two different ways: an en bloc blackout and a fragmentary blackout. The former type of blackout is severe, as you cannot form or recover memories. The latter, on the other hand, is characterized by patchy memories and the forgetting of certain moments during the duration of events. 

What Happens To Your Body During A Blackout?

Alcohol Blackouts

During a blackout, your entire body may be compromised. Your brain is supposed to regulate your ability to control impulses and make decisions, but excessive alcohol consumption may affect this. Your hippocampus, or where memories are formed, is unable to withstand long-term alcohol tolerance. 

In effect, it cannot form memories during a blackout. You do not pass out during a blackout as you can usually function normally, and have conversations, walk, eat, and more. But because your hippocampus cannot create memories, you can likely do things you may regret like get into fights, drive under the influence, have sex, or engage in other risky scenarios. 

Although alcohol blackouts do not mean that you have alcohol use disorder, they can definitely be a cause for concern. Heavy drinking on a regular basis can have long-term effects on your brain, such as damage to the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is critical to both short- and long-term memory, personality, behavior, and other important functions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Because alcohol blackouts are so dangerous, here is some additional information on them:

What causes blackouts in alcoholism?

Alcohol blackouts can be caused by an overwhelming amount of alcohol in the bloodstream, due to binge drinking, ingesting alcohol quickly, or mixing alcohol with other medications. When your body is unable to properly process the alcohol in your system, you may be more likely to experience a blackout. 

How long do alcohol blackouts usually last?

Alcohol blackouts can last for only a few minutes, but in severe instances, they can also last for a number of days. 

How can you tell if someone is blackout drunk?

It may be difficult to tell if someone is blackout drunk because they are conscious and can still engage in normal conversations. However, some warning signs of someone who is blackout drunk include dizziness, slurring, vomiting, slow reflexes, mood shifts, poor coordination, and similar actions.

How do you stop blacking out when drinking?

To avoid blacking out when drinking, be sure to have a meal beforehand. Do not drink too fast — sip your drinks so that you are able to gauge the effect of alcohol on you. Take breaks in between alcoholic beverages and be sure to drink water as well.

Does blacking out damage your brain?

Blacking out per se may not damage your brain, but repeatedly binge drinking or abusing your alcohol intake may cause long-term brain damage and affect your memory in the way that dementia or Alzheimer’s might.

You can easily avoid getting drunk by eating beforehand, watching your intake throughout the night, sipping drinks slowly, and drinking lots of water in between. If you know someone who may need potential treatment avenues for their alcohol misuse or chronic heavy drinking, read some of our posts on Radical Rehab today.

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