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Alcohol Blackouts

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An alcohol blackout refers to a loss of memory a person experiences due to excessive alcohol consumption. It’s a dangerous situation that can lead to unpredictable and harmful results. Although one blackout is one too many, having them on multiple occasions means you probably binge drink regularly.

If you’ve become physically and emotionally dependent on alcohol, recovery may be a challenging process. More often than not, some form of intensive, comprehensive treatment will be necessary to stop drinking, prevent relapse, and sustain long-term sobriety. Fortunately, alcoholism is very treatable, and in many cases, entering recovery can be a fulfilling and even life-saving decision.

If you are seeking effective professional help and support for addiction, Guardian Recovery can provide you with a free, no-obligation assessment and health benefits check. We customize each treatment plan to ensure all your recovery needs and goals are fulfilled. Contact us today to learn more about our evidence-based treatment programs, therapies, and holistic approach to the recovery process.

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What Is an Alcohol-Induced Blackout?

Many people who drink alcohol excessively will experience what is known as a “blackout.” When this occurs, a person will have little or no memory of events that occurred while drinking. However, during a blackout, you don’t necessarily become unresponsive. Instead, you can be relatively functional and say things you won’t remember. Still, at the time, other people may think you are acting reasonably, albeit noticeably intoxicated. 

This is a very dangerous time because you may make unfortunate decisions and act impulsively. Any person at this level of intoxication can be the victim of sexual assault, suffer severe injuries, potentially experience life-threatening alcohol poisoning, and require emergency medical care.

Experiencing a blackout doesn’t necessarily mean you have an alcohol use disorder, but in no uncertain terms, it does indicate you’ve consumed enough alcohol to be dangerously intoxicated. That said, having several blackouts does suggest you might have a drinking problem and difficulty controlling your alcohol intake.

What Causes Blackouts?

Alcohol-induced blackouts occur when an individual drinks enough alcohol to prevent memories from moving from short-term to long-term storage (memory consolidation). This happens in the hippocampus, a small area of the brain vital for memory formation. (1) There are two types of blackouts, differentiated by the severity of memory impairment. 

Sometimes called a brownout, the most common form of alcohol-induced memory loss is referred to as “fragmentary.” (2) These episodes are hallmarked by spotty memories of events, with short periods of memories separated by forgotten time in between. Another type is called an “en bloc” blackout, which results in total amnesia that can last for hours. (3) The associated memory loss is complete and severe, memories are not formed or cannot be recovered. In this case, it is as if events never occurred, and there are no intermittent recollections of anything for a prolonged period.

Causes of Blackouts

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as alcohol use that increases blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08% or higher. Individuals are most likely to suffer a blackout if they reach a 0.16% BAC or more. (4) For most people, this can be reached after having 4-5 drinks in a two-hour period. Blackouts can also occur at lower levels in people with low tolerance.

Research from the NIAAA reported that:

“At low doses, the impairments produced by alcohol are often subtle, though they are detectable in controlled conditions. As the amount of alcohol consumed increases, so does the magnitude of the memory impairments. Large quantities of alcohol, particularly if consumed rapidly, can produce a blackout…” (5)

While BAC is the primary factor in blackouts, other variables also exist. For example, some people are more susceptible to having them due to genetics, medical conditions, or medications they’re taking. Some factors that affect the likelihood and timing of a blackout also generally influence a person’s overall level of intoxication.

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How To Avoid Blackouts

Whether you have a low, average, or high tolerance, avoiding blackouts is not difficult if you can follow certain guidelines. However, this can be more challenging if you have an alcohol use disorder—especially limiting your alcohol intake. If you find you can’t adhere to these rules and want to prevent blackouts, you are urged to seek professional help to prevent further memory loss episodes and dangerous intoxication.

Limit Overall Alcohol Consumption

Binge drinking is the primary cause of blackouts, so limiting alcohol intake makes it much less likely to blackout than consuming several drinks within a short period. Individuals are advised to limit their drinks to one or two per day for women and men, respectively. One standard drink is considered 12 oz. of beer at 5% ABV, 5 oz. of wine at 12% ABV, or 1.5 oz. of distilled spirits at 40% ABV. (6)

Slow Alcohol Intake

In addition to limiting alcohol intake, slowing down your drinking can prevent a rapid increase in blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Pacing yourself while consuming alcohol and avoiding “slamming” drinks or having several drinks in succession can significantly lower your risk of a blackout. 

One effective way to slow your drinking is consuming non-alcoholic beverages like soda, juice, or water (the most beneficial) in between alcoholic drinks. (7) For example, you could have two glasses of another beverage for every single glass of beer or wine. Other ways include setting down your glass after sips and not refilling it until it’s empty.

Eat Protein-Rich or Fatty Foods

Having food in your stomach, particularly those high in protein and fat, can inhibit alcohol absorption. The stomach is a small muscle with a limited capacity to absorb fluids, unlike the small intestine, which has a vast surface area and more room for liquids. On average, about 80% of alcohol passes into the small intestine and is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. (8)

Fortunately, a valve separates the stomach from the small intestine, which closes when food is present. This slows down alcohol’s transfer into the small intestine and, therefore, the bloodstream, which slows down intoxication. (9)

Focus on Hydration

When your body senses you’re dehydrated, it produces the antidiuretic hormone vasopressin, which lessens the need to urinate. (10) But after alcohol exposure, your body makes less vasopressin, thereby making it more difficult to retain fluid. Experts believe drinking a significant amount of water before consuming alcohol boosts hydration levels and can result in less dehydration later. (11)

Drinking a glass or two of water between each alcoholic drink can keep the body hydrated for hours and throughout an entire drinking episode. Likewise, drinking water before bed can help replenish lost fluid and lessen dehydration and its effects. Also, if you are well-hydrated, you may feel fuller, prompting you to slow your drinking.

Watch for Signs of Intoxication

Similar symptoms will occur whether you become intoxicated gradually over the course of several hours or rapidly in a short period. Rapid drinking can hasten memory loss and make it more likely, but either way, a blackout can result.

Signs of Intoxication Include:

  • Noticeable intoxication.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Impaired perception.
  • Memory loss.
  • Confusion and disorientation.
  • Emotional instability.
  • Poor judgment and impulsivity.
  • Dizziness.
  • Impaired vision.
  • Severe coordination problems.
  • Clumsiness and staggering.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Stupor and unresponsiveness.
  • Unconsciousness.

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Effective Treatment for Alcohol Dependence Is Available

Guardian Recovery is dedicated to helping people who struggle with controlling their drinking and experience alcohol blackouts. We strive to provide individuals with the most effective care and achieve mental, physical, and emotional stability. Every person suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction deserves a healthy, sober, and fulfilling life, free from the effects of excessive drinking, such as potentially dangerous blackouts and memory loss.

We encourage you to contact us to speak to an experienced treatment advisor who can explain our streamlined admission process and help you determine the level of care that’s right for you. If you are ready to experience a new, happier life in recovery, reach out to us to learn more about your treatment options and how we can provide you with the tools and support you need to enjoy long-lasting sobriety and wellness.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

(1)https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/memory-consolidation (2)(3)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2800062/ (4)https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/binge-drinking (5)https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/186-196.htm (6)https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm (7)https://msw.usc.edu/mswusc-blog/binge-drinking-moderation-strategies/ (8)https://www.abc.ca.gov/education/licensee-education/alcohol-facts (9)https://sites.duke.edu/apep/module-1-gender-matters/content/content-how-is-alcohol-absorbed-into-the-body/ (10)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526069/ (11)https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/water-and-healthier-drinks.html

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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