If you’re asking yourself “what is alcohol-induced amnesia?”, you need to familiarize yourself with blackouts from alcohol. Someone who is in the midst of a blackout from alcohol may seem fully functioning, but they will not be able to recall parts of events or entire activities when they’ve sobered up. Any blackout incident is a cause for concern. If you’ve blacked out, you need to immediately reconsider your relationship with alcohol. What happens to your body when you blackout can have long-term consequences.
If you black out frequently when you drink, it’s time to talk to a professional about rehabilitation and Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Call 385-327-7418 now to speak with medical professionals who can help you establish an individualized plan that will help you regain long lasting sobriety.
Defining a Blackout
A blackout from alcohol is the most common form of blackout experienced by substance abusers, although it is possible to black out on other drugs. A blackout while drinking occurs when your memory is affected, and you experience lost time. What causes blackouts from drinking is excessive alcohol consumption, and there are generally two types of blackouts. These definitions are an attempt to gauge the depth of memory impairment experienced by the person who is blacked out.
A fragmentary blackout describes when a heavy drinker has a mottled recollection of what transpired while drunk. There will be isolated memory “islands” where the user recalls what was going on surrounded by missing periods of time. Some circles also call this a greyout or a brownout.
So what is full-blown alcohol-induced amnesia? An en bloc blackout describes when you’ve experienced the loss of hours or sometimes even days. When blackouts are this severe, no memories are formed, and nothing will be able to jog your memory about what occurred. To you, what transpired just never happened.
Remember that individuals experiencing a blackout may appear normal, as blacking out simply refers to the inability to transfer short term memories into long term memories. It doesn’t directly affect speech cognition or other brain pathways, but since short term memories are not stored, no memories are created to recall when sober.
A blackout can occur when your blood alcohol level is very high. Your ability to create new memories while drunk is hindered, although memories you’ve created before getting drunk remain intact. The more you drink, the higher your blood alcohol level gets. The length and severity of blackouts will increase along with your intoxication level, and the duration of blackouts varies from person to person.
Alcohol poisoning is more likely to occur while blacked out or passed out. If you or someone you’re drinking with experience the following signs, seek medical attention immediately:
- Severe confusion
- Difficulty staying conscious
- Extreme vomiting
- Trouble taking breaths, especially less than 8 breaths per minute
- Sluggish breathing with more than 10 seconds between breaths
- A slowed heart rate or pulse
- Clammy feeling skin, turning blue, getting very pale, or a low body temperature
- The loss of a gag reflex or other dulled bodily responses
If someone experiencing these symptoms does not receive immediate medical attention, not remembering what happened during a blackout will be the least of their concerns. Alcohol poisoning easily causes permanent brain damage, a comatose state, and will quickly turn deadly.
Blackouts from alcohol are more likely to occur if you are drinking alcohol quickly as opposed to slowly consuming alcohol over a prolonged period. Drinking without food in your stomach will cause you to become intoxicated faster, so keep this in mind before you decide to binge drink.
Anything Can Happen
Unfortunately, anything can happen while you’re blacked out. Since high levels of blood alcohol are what causes blackouts from drinking, it’s possible for you to lose your ability to remember anything you’re doing while highly intoxicated. It turns out that blackouts are much more common than previously thought among social drinkers. It is especially prevalent in college-age binge drinkers first experimenting with alcohol and their tolerance levels.
What happens to your body when you blackout can range from mild to traumatic depending on where you are and who is taking care of you when you’re blacked out. You may carry on full conversations that you later cannot recall, you may drive your vehicle without remembering it, and you may engage in intercourse.
Keep in mind that any kind of sex act that you engage in is considered nonconsensual when you’re in a blackout from alcohol since you are not consciously able to consent to sex. If you find that you are upset upon finding out that you had sexual contact during a blackout, you have every right to feel violated. Since you aren’t making memories while blacked out, it’s easy to drink so much during a blackout that you give yourself alcohol poisoning. If you or someone you’re drinking with is showing signs of alcohol poisoning, it’s time to go to the emergency room.
How Much is Too Much?
What causes blackouts from drinking is the amount of alcohol that is in your bloodstream. When your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) begins to hover or exceed .16 percent, you are at risk of blacking out. This is twice the legal driving limit, which means you have to be intoxicated before you’re really at risk for blacking out. Every drink you have in an hour raises your BAC by about .02 percent, so 8 drinks in an hour (less if you’re taking shots) are likely to bring on a period of blackout. If you’re on sleep aids or take anti-anxiety medication, this threshold is greatly reduced and even one drink can trigger a blackout.
Every person’s metabolism and ability to clear alcohol from their system is different, so these are not ultimate rules you can follow if trying to avoid what causes blackouts from drinking. If you’re trying to avoid answering the question “what is alcohol-induced insomnia” with your personal experiences, refrain from drinking altogether.
Women tend to weigh less than men, and women have less water in their bodies naturally, so females are more likely to experience intoxicating BAC levels before men. This is why there are more feminine accounts of blacking out than there are stories told by males. Blackouts sometimes occur before your BAC has reached its maximum level due to your consumption. You may black out before you are rendered unconscious or you pass out due to being overly intoxicated.
What happens to your body when you blackout is an individualized experience when it comes to perception, and there’s no surefire way to know when you’re blacked out. However, since what causes blackouts from drinking is severe intoxication, anyone drinking heavily with you should pay attention to tell-tale signs.
When you’re blacked out, you may exhibit the following observable symptoms:
- Difficulty walking
- Difficulty talking
- Difficulty standing
- Impaired judgment, or doing things that are out of character
- Impaired vision, including believing you don’t need your corrective lenses
- Short attention span, or an inability to follow a conversation or remember parts of a story being told
- Constantly interrupting other conversations
- Repeating the same thing over and over despite others acknowledging what you’ve said
Since the essence of what is alcohol-induced amnesia can be so individualized, there are no clear guides that can define when someone is blacked out and when they are not. If you are planning on binge drinking, it is prudent to bring along a sober individual who can carefully monitor the behaviors of the drunk people and they may be able to intervene to keep you safe in the event of a blackout from alcohol.
If you’ve passed out from overdrinking, you were likely blacked out before you lost consciousness. Overdosing on alcohol is extremely dangerous and affects your brain’s ability to properly maintain life-support functionality. Your breathing can slow, your heart rate can become irregular, and you may not be able to control your body temperature.
If your primary care physician knows you’re a drinker when you go in for a regular checkup, they may ask you probing questions related to blacking out to try and assess your risk for AUD. Answer these questions honestly and remember that anything you say to your doctor remains confidential.
What to Watch For
Blackouts don’t necessarily mean that you have an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Since blackouts from alcohol can occur any time you over drink, even if it’s your first time, simply experiencing a blackout doesn’t automatically make you an alcoholic.
It’s important to remember that the frequency of blackouts precipitates alcohol-induced life consequences, like work tardiness, missing school assignments, injuries, ER visits, arrests, or social fallout. These consequences, when compounded, do signal that you have an AUD. Events that happen to you while drunk may also indicate you have an AUD. For example, if you frequently drink until you vomit, or you’ve vomited while unconscious, you may be an alcoholic. Remember that if a person has passed out, their BAC may still rise, and they may be suffering from alcohol poisoning.
If you suspect that you or a drinking mate is suffering from alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. It doesn’t matter how drunk you or they think they are if they have overdosed. Do not shy away from seeking medical attention for a friend that may have alcohol poisoning even if that may anger the person in distress. It’s always better to be safe than regret your inaction. If you or a friend arrive at the ER in a state of alcohol poisoning, you will be evaluated for an AUD after you sober up. Answer their questions honestly, as the medical team is just trying to ensure your continued safety and longevity.
Seek Help When Blacking Out Regularly
If blackouts from alcohol are causing major or frequent consequences in your life, it’s time to get evaluated for AUD. Since what happens to your body when you blackout can lead to other physical health consequences, it’s important to acknowledge you need rehabilitative help if blacking out is happening to you frequently.
The things that fuel your desire to know exactly what is alcohol-induced amnesia tend to indicate an alcohol abuse disorder. You need to be honest with yourself about when you blackout, how long you blackout, and how frequently you blackout.
What causes blackouts from drinking is overdrinking. If you’re frequently overdrinking, it’s time to reach out for support to quit. Call 385-327-7418 to speak with licensed and compassionate professionals who are standing by to discuss your treatment options. It’s never too early or too late to seek help.
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