Specifically associated with binge drinking, blacking out from drinking involves memory loss due to excessive alcohol consumption. Frequent blackouts not only put you at risk in multiple ways, but they could also be a sign of a growing substance abuse disorder.
If you have experience with blackouts and are concerned about your alcohol use, please reach out to us at (626) 602-2966. We understand addiction and its ability to take over a person’s life, and we’re here to guide you toward a safe and successful recovery.
Blackouts are becoming much more common among social drinkers, and while not a direct sign of alcohol addiction, they are a clear warning sign of the early phases of addiction.
How is Blacking Out Different Than Getting Drunk?
Sometimes called “alcohol-induced amnesia,” when a blackout occurs, a person has problems forming new long-term memories while still maintaining necessary motor skills. This happens with a rapid spike in BAC, either by binge drinking or consuming numerous drinks quickly.
Blood Alcohol Concentration or Content (BAC) refers to the percent of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream. For example, a BAC of .10% means that a person’s blood supply contains one-part alcohol for every 1,000 parts of blood.
Determining Factors of BAC
- Number of standard drinks consumed
- How fast you consume drinks
- Biological sex/ gender of the drinker
- Medications present in the system
- Food (or lack thereof) in the system
With a BAC of .01 to .03, you typically experience no effects beyond perhaps a slight mood elevation. With a BAC of .07 to .09, you are in the “legally impaired” range in California, where it becomes illegal to operate a vehicle. Alcohol blackout is a state when your blood alcohol content reaches 0.15 or higher.
There are two types of blackouts: complete and partial ( a “gray-out”). With a complete blackout, a person experiences total memory loss that they cannot recall. Gray-outs are more common, and although you cannot immediately remember what happened, specific cues or reminders can trigger the memory.
Contrary to popular belief, a “blackout drunk” is not unconscious. Passing out means a person has lost consciousness – not precisely asleep, but not responding to attempts of someone trying to wake them up.
When a person blacks out from drinking, they may continue to carry on conversations, continue drinking, change locations, and perhaps most dangerously, drive. They appear to be conscious, but they will not remember what happened or what they did after the fact.
The Inherent Dangers of Blacking Out
A blackout drunk may walk home, brush their teeth, eat a meal, or perform otherwise normal behaviors. However, they do not remember the actions because their brain does not move their experiences into memory. Once the person begins to sober up, the brain starts processing memories normally again.
Distressingly, people who blackout from alcohol may illegally operate a vehicle, engage in a risky sexual encounter, destroy property, or participate in other dangerous behaviors. People who are blackout drunk are also more likely to injure themselves (or others) physically.
Signs of a blackout include:
- Unable to focus
- Repeating yourself during a conversation or unable to follow a conversation
- Continually forgetting where you are or what you’re doing
- Disregard for the thoughts or feelings of others
- Participation in risky behaviors you wouldn’t do if sober or merely inebriated
- Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol in a short time
Often, the result of a blackout is the person passing out. This is due to no small quantity of alcohol in the bloodstream, and it could lead to respiratory issues, vomiting, injuries from falling, or getting alcohol poisoning.
The individual may also suffer seizures due to the amount of alcohol in their body. A person exhibiting unusual, risky behavior or who passes out while drinking needs medical attention to prevent alcohol poisoning or other complications. Smokers, possibly due to their existing condition or impulsive behaviors, are more likely to blackout due to excessive drinking. Additionally, if you have friends who overindulge in drinking, you are more likely to do the same, leading to a potential blackout. If you are struggling with addiction, then contact our specialists today. We will help you get on the road to recovery.
How to Prevent Blackouts
Large quantities of alcohol, mainly if people consume it quickly, can produce a blackout. Time becomes lost, and a person cannot recall key details of events, or even an entire event itself. Blackouts are much more common among social drinkers. They should know about the potential consequence of intoxication, regardless of age or being clinically dependent upon alcohol.
To keep the health risks to a low level, men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units a week – equivalent to six pints of average strength beer or six medium glasses of everyday ABV wine. If you regularly consume this much, it’s safest to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days. An excellent way to cut down the amount you drink is to have several drink-free days each week. The liver can only process one unit of alcohol per hour, so avoid binge drinking to keep your health in check.
To prevent blackouts from drinking, you should:
- Eat a meal or snack before and during your drinking.
- Drink slowly. This will help you keep track of how alcohol is affecting you.
- Drink a glass of water between alcoholic drinks.
- Avoid harmful drinking games, shots, and drinks that don’t taste like alcohol.
- Control your drinking by pouring your drinks – don’t allow others to fill your glass continually.
- Do not mix alcohol and medications.
- Only drink in familiar settings where you feel comfortable.
- Be the designated driver – avoid drinking altogether.
Some people may have more difficulty avoiding alcoholic blackouts than others. These include people who have had gastric bypass surgery, those with long histories of severe alcohol abuse and withdrawal, and individuals with genetic irregularities in their alcohol metabolism. For people in this category, abstinence is ultimately the safest choice.
It’s difficult to acknowledge if you are blacking out due to alcohol abuse. Understand that you are not alone. Adults, college students, even high school students experience blackout from alcohol.
As relatable examples, testimonials from others who have suffered blackouts can offer lessons on avoiding dangerous situations:
R.K. was 22 the first time she blacked out and woke up in a bathtub. “My friends – new friends I had met that same night in a bar – were trying to wake me up by running the shower attachment in my face. They had to carry me back to their hotel from Burger King after I passed out on its floor.”
C.G was only 18 when she had her first alcohol-related blackout. “Throughout college and into my 20s, I clung to the belief that women who drank were cool. Women who drank until they passed out were hard as nails, one of the boys, and not messed with. I drank like the boys, matching them, beer for beer.” She adds, “But I’ve accepted that I won’t get any of my lost memories back—because what choice do I have? And I’m focused on remembering everything else about the rest of my life.”
Sarah Hepola wrote an autobiography, Blackout: Remembering the Things, I Drank to Forget, a painful deliberation on the nature of sexual consent when someone is in blackout mode. “It’s such a savage thing to lose your memory, but the crazy thing is, it doesn’t hurt one bit. A blackout doesn’t sting, or stab, or leave a scar when it robs you.” Her story is about giving up the thing you cherish most, but getting yourself back in return.
Unfortunately, these situations are every day, and no one is exempt from the possibility of entering a dangerous stage of intoxication. If you need help with addiction, then contact us today. Our trained professionals will be able to help you start your journey to sobriety.
Seeking Help For A Drinking Problem
If you are thinking, “I got blackout drunk, now what?” it may be time to reach out for some help. While not a direct sign of an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), blackouts are a typical red flag in the early phases of addiction and dependency.
Fortunately, if a person seeks help to abstain from alcohol safely, they can stop problematic behavior before getting out of control. If necessary, detox or rehabilitation treatment can be the next step toward a healthier life. Early intervention is the best way to ensure the highest possibility of successful recovery from a substance abuse disorder.
As part of an overall treatment program, behavioral treatment can alter drinking behavior through personal counseling. Health professionals diagnose unhealthy behavior and find the root causes of it.
Medication can also be beneficial for someone looking to stop chronic substance abuse. It can be used alongside therapy or within a program, to help curb cravings and physical urges. Remember, only take medications prescribed by a professional and tailored to your needs.
Community is also important. In treatment programs, you are given peer support within a controlled setting. This sense of “togetherness” is crucial for any healthy recovery. After treatment, this support can continue through programs such as AA or Lifering.
If you’re concerned about blackouts from drinking, or you’re experiencing other adverse effects from alcohol consumption, please reach out to us. We are here to answer your questions about substance abuse and point you in the right direction toward a healthy, sober lifestyle.
Written by Kate Schwab
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