What Happens When I Blackout?
Are You Struggling with Alcoholism and Blackouts?
If you haven’t heard of alcohol-induced amnesia, you may have heard it by another name. “Blackouts” occur when a person drinks too much alcohol and loses active consciousness. This article discusses alcoholism, blackouts, and alcoholism treatment.
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What Is a Blackout?
Someone amid a blackout may seem fully functioning but may not recall parts or entire activities after sobering. Therefore, any blackout incident is a cause for concern due to the potential danger.
If you’ve blacked out, you may want to reconsider your relationship with alcohol. When someone blacks out, their body may suffer from long-term consequences.
A blackout from alcohol is the most common form of blackout experienced by substance abusers. However, 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.
Two Types of Blackouts
A fragmentary blackout describes when a heavy drinker has a spotted recollection of what transpired while drunk. There will be isolated memory “islands” where the user recalls what was happening, surrounded by missing periods.
So, what is full-blown alcohol-induced amnesia? An En-bloc blackout describes when a heavy drinker experiences the loss of hours or sometimes even days. When blackouts are this severe, there is no recollection, and nothing will be able to jog their memory about what occurred. To them, what transpired just never happened.
Remember that individuals experiencing a blackout may appear normal, as blacking out is not a physically recognized occurrence. Blacking out refers to the inability to transfer short-term memories into long-term memories. Therefore, it doesn’t directly affect speech cognition or other brain pathways.
Still, since short-term memories are not stored, no memories are created to recall when sober.
What Causes a Blackout?
A blackout can occur when someone’s blood alcohol level is very high. In this case, the person’s recent memories remain but cannot create new ones. The more someone drinks, the higher their blood alcohol level gets. Therefore, the length and severity of blackouts will increase along with their intoxication level. The duration of blackouts varies from person to person.
Alcohol poisoning is more likely to occur while blacked out or unconscious. Seek medical attention immediately for the following signs:
- Severe confusion
- Difficulty staying conscious
- Extreme vomiting
- Trouble taking breaths, especially less than eight 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, they could be in grave danger. Alcohol poisoning quickly causes permanent brain damage and an unconscious state and can quickly turn fatal.
Since someone drinking isn’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 partying with shows signs of alcohol poisoning, it’s time to go to the emergency room.
Alcoholic blackouts are more likely to occur if you are downing alcohol as opposed to slowly consuming it over a prolonged period. Also, drinking without eating will cause someone to become intoxicated faster.
What Are the Risks of Blacking Out?
Unfortunately, anything can happen when someone blacks out. 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 their alcohol tolerance levels.
The Dangers of Blacking Out – Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
Things that can happen to someone’s body when they blackout can range from mild to traumatic, depending on their environment and surroundings. For example, someone may carry on entire conversations that they cannot recall or drive their car without remembering. Additionally, someone may have engaged sexually without recognizing or be sexually assaulted without awareness or consent.
Remember that any sex act someone engages in is nonconsensual when they black out since they are not fully conscious to give consent.
Unwanted sexual engagement is sexual assault, and the victim is likely traumatized. Unfortunately, trauma and abuse are often the roots of addiction, and this heinous crime is avoidable.
Protect yourself at all costs.
How Much is Too Much?
What causes blackouts from drinking is the amount of alcohol that is in a person’s bloodstream. A person risks blacking out when blood alcohol concentration (BAC) begins to hover or exceed .16 percent. This BAC is twice the legal driving limit, which means someone has to be intoxicated before they are really at risk of blacking out.
Every drink someone has in an hour raises their BAC by about .02 percent. So, therefore, eight glasses in an hour (less if you’re taking shots) are likely to bring on a blackout period.
Furthermore, if someone takes sleep aids or anti-anxiety medication, the number of drinks is significantly reduced, and even one drink can trigger a blackout.
Every person’s metabolism is different, so this is not a complete list of rules someone can follow if trying to avoid a blackout. But, likewise, everybody has different tolerances and potential underlying conditions.
Alcoholic Tolerances Between Men and Women
Statistically, women tend to weigh less than men and naturally have less water in their bodies. Hence, women are more likely to experience intoxicating BAC levels than men.
Due to consumption, blackouts sometimes occur before a person’s BAC has reached its maximum level. As a result, someone may black out before becoming unconscious or pass out from intoxication.
What Are the Signs of Potential Alcoholism?
When someone blacks out, their perception and experiences vary. Therefore, there is no way to know when someone blacked out for sure. However, since severe intoxication causes blackouts, anyone heavily drinking should pay attention to tell-tale signs.
When someone blacks out, they may exhibit the following observable symptoms:
- Difficulty walking
- Difficulty talking
- Difficulty standing
- Impaired judgment or doing things that are out of character
- Poor 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
- Constantly interrupting other conversations
- Repeating the same thing over and over despite others acknowledging what you’ve said
Since the essence of alcohol-induced amnesia can be so individualized, there are no clear guides that define when someone blacks out.
Therefore, if you are planning on binge drinking, bringing along a sober individual who can carefully monitor the behaviors of those drinking is prudent. In addition, they may be able to intervene to keep you safe in the event of a blackout.
People who passed out from overdrinking likely blacked out before losing consciousness. Overdosing on alcohol is extremely dangerous and affects the brain’s ability to maintain life-support functionality properly. As a result, breathing can slow, heart rate can become irregular, and a person may not be able to control their body temperature.
Talking to a Doctor
A person can talk to their doctor about their drinking habits and decide if treatment for AUD is appropriate. People can feel free to answer these questions honestly and remember that anything they say to their doctor remains confidential.
What Do I Need to Watch Out For?
Blackouts don’t necessarily mean that you have an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Since blackouts can occur any time someone over drinks, experiencing a blackout doesn’t automatically make someone an alcoholic.
It’s important to remember that frequent blackouts precipitate alcohol-induced life consequences. Some consequences include work tardiness, missing school assignments, injuries, ER visits, arrests, or social fallout. These compounded consequences signal that someone likely suffers from an AUD.
Indications of Potential Alcoholism
Behaviors exhibited while someone is drunk may indicate potential alcoholism. For example, if someone frequently drinks until they vomit or vomit while unconscious, they may be struggling with alcoholism. If someone drinking has passed out, their BAC may still rise. If left unchecked, they may suffer from alcohol poisoning.
If you suspect that you or a drinking mate is suffering from alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. If you believe an overdose has occurred, it does not matter how much or little someone has drunk.
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.
Anyone admitted to the hospital with alcohol poisoning will likely undergo health questions upon sobering. Patients need to answer questions honestly, as the medical team is there to ensure a person’s continued safety and longevity.
Help and Hope Is Always Here
If blackouts are causing significant or frequent consequences in your life, it might be time to talk to your doctor about AUD. Since blackouts can lead to several health consequences, assessing if you need medical intervention early is crucial.
Treatment Options Are Available
Suppose you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholic blackouts. In that case, the frequency and length of blackouts can help identify the severity of the distress. Regardless of severity, treatment options are available for people struggling with alcoholism.
If you or someone you know is frequently overdrinking, consider contacting an addiction specialist for support.
Call 385-327-7418 to speak with licensed and compassionate professionals standing by to discuss treatment options. Education and compassion are the keys to overcoming addiction. There is always hope, no matter how bad a person’s situation is.
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Interrupted Memories: Alcohol-Induced Blackouts | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) (nih.gov)
Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose (or Alcohol Poisoning) (collegedrinkingprevention.gov)
How to Find The Right Rehab – Recover Today (betterhelpaddictioncare.com)
Addiction in College: Fraternities and Sororities – Recover Today (betterhelpaddictioncare.com)