But why does this happen? If you’ve ever experienced this and wondered, “why do I blackout when I drink?” our Pompano rehab center is sharing the science behind alcohol blackouts.
An alcohol blackout or blackout due to drinking alcohol refers to a gap in a person’s memory of events that occurred while they were intoxicated (drunk). These gaps in memory commonly occur when a person has too much alcohol, which impairs the transfer of memory in their brain.
People often confuse blacking out with “passing out,” which is a temporary loss of consciousness, otherwise known as syncope. However, when you blackout from drinking, there’s no loss of voluntary behavior, which means that you can still move around, interact with people, and even seem fine to the people around you.
There are two types of alcohol blackouts: fragmentary blackouts and en bloc blackouts. Fragmentary blackouts are characterized by spotty or random memories of events, with “islands” or fragments of memories separated by gaps in time. People may also refer to this kind of alcohol-related blackout as a gray out or brownout.
An en bloc blackout refers to complete amnesia, which usually occurs for hours at a time. This is a severe form of blackout during which memories of events do not form and can’t be remembered. Basically, it’s like they never happened.
People also often confuse blacking out and alcohol poisoning, but they aren’t the same thing. Rather, blackouts can be a symptom of alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when alcohol is consumed at such a rapid rate that the body becomes intoxicated. A person with alcohol poisoning has too much alcohol in their bloodstream, which can affect functions like heart rate, breathing, and body temperature regulation.
As a result, the body may begin to shut down. As the person is on their way to developing alcohol poisoning, they may experience blackouts or be unable to remember certain things from when they were drinking.
Blackouts are usually caused by binge drinking or drinking alcohol too quickly, preventing the body from being able to process it effectively. Particularly, a blackout occurs when your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.16% or higher, which is double the standard for legal intoxication (0.08% BAC). BAC levels above 0.40% can be fatal.1
When people binge drink, they consume large amounts of alcohol in a short period. Binge drinking is when a man has 5 or more drinks, or a woman has 4 or more drinks in 2 hours. Binge drinking also includes any pattern of drinking that raises your BAC to 0.08% or higher.2
What Happens to Your Body When You Blackout?
When you blackout after drinking, you experience a specific kind of memory loss called anterograde amnesia, meaning that you can’t create new memories.
Although the specifics aren’t clear, many scientists believe that a blackout occurs when the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory, is impaired. Alcohol is known to impair this area of the brain as well as how nerve cells communicate with each other. From steroid production to neural communication, connections between brain regions are impacted, and functions like learning and memory are affected.
Remember that blacking out isn’t the same as passing out or losing consciousness. When a person passes out, they’re unresponsive, but when a person experiences a blackout after drinking, they can still function normally, socialize with people, and even dance.
As a result, distinguishing alcohol blackout behavior from normal behavior can be difficult, but there are certain indicators to look out for.
Side effects of blacking out include:
Oftentimes, the person isn’t even aware that they’ve blacked out, which is why it’s important to be able to recognize the signs.
No, having a blackout doesn’t mean you’re an alcoholic or that you have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). However, if you binge drink frequently or experience blackouts regularly, then you may have a problem.
Your relationship with alcohol can become more dangerous the more you binge drink or drink heavily. Alcohol is addictive, and long-term alcohol abuse can lead to addiction as well as other problems.
While one blackout may just be an indicator that you went overboard that day, frequent blackouts can be a sign of addiction. If this is you, then you may need to seek out professional alcohol treatment.
Frequent blackouts often indicate more serious underlying issues. If you’ve found yourself drinking more heavily and frequently, don’t wait to get help.
Our Pompano substance abuse treatment center offers treatment for alcohol addiction in various levels of care, including a partial hospitalization program and intensive outpatient program. We also incorporate therapy in our programming to address the mental aspect of addiction and recovery.