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Alcohol Blackouts

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Susan used a wheelchair and would drink every Friday night after working 50 hours that week as a software engineer. After staring at a computer for so long, she told herself she deserved it. But the problem was that she couldn’t remember everything that happened the night before by Saturday morning. Sometimes, friends would tell her if she went out with them, but it was harder to piece together all the events if she was alone. And what she could remember never gave her the complete picture of the night.

She was experiencing alcohol blackouts, which can occur from binge drinking. Between 2015 and 2020, 20.3% of men and 11% of women in California participated in binge drinking. Pacific Sands is great for those with mobility concerns, like Susan, due to our accessible facility. Does Susan’s story sound familiar to you? What are alcohol blackouts, and why do they happen in the first place? 

What Is a Blackout?

A blackout happens when someone has impaired memory of events while drinking. They can occur to anyone who drinks alcohol and are common when people have higher blood alcohol concentrations (BACs). A blackout is not the same as “passing out” because the person is still awake during a blackout. Their brain is just not creating new memories. 

Alcohol Blackout Causes

Blackouts occur when their BACs are around 0.16 percent or higher for most people. Attention, judgment, impulse control, and decision-making are all impaired at this level. These impairments are all associated with blackouts. Blackouts can also occur at lower levels of BACs for several reasons. For example, if you’re on any medications, your risk of experiencing a blackout is higher. Females are also more likely to experience blackouts because they reach higher BAC levels faster than males. 

Alcohol Blackouts

Different Types of Alcohol Blackouts

There are two types of alcohol blackouts. The most common type is called “fragmentary blackout.” It is sometimes called a grayout or a brownout. People who experience this type of blackout often experience spotty memories of events. They will share some memories, but those memories are separated by periods of missing time in between. 

The second type is more severe but less common. This type of blackout is called an “en bloc” blackout and is associated with complete amnesia for several hours. The brain does not form any memories of the events that occurred, and the memories cannot be recovered. As far as the brain is concerned, the events never happened. 

Blackouts and Alcohol Use Disorder

While experiencing a blackout is not necessarily a sign of an alcohol addiction, frequent blackouts can be associated with an alcohol use disorder. 

Avoiding Alcohol Blackouts

The best way to avoid alcohol blackouts is not to drink alcohol, especially if you are on medications for sleeping or anxiety, but for some, that can be easier said than done. If you have an alcohol use disorder, you must seek treatment under the monitoring of a medical professional. This is because while most symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are not dangerous, they can lead to complications. 

Avoiding other substances alongside your alcohol use is another way to lower the risk of blackouts. You can also avoid alcohol blackouts by only drinking as much as your liver can process in 1 hour, which is typically only 1 drink.  Also, ensuring you are not drinking on an empty stomach can reduce your risk of experiencing a blackout. 

Alcohol Blackouts

Alcohol Use Disorder: What to Do When Someone Experiences a Blackout

A person experiencing an alcohol blackout is conscious and aware of their environment. However, their ability to form new memories is not intact. They can have detailed conversations and perform complex tasks but will not remember the event afterward. This makes it difficult to know if someone is experiencing a blackout. If a loved one informs you that they had a blackout associated with their alcohol use disorder, it is a good idea to get the conversation going. If this is something they experience regularly, it may be time to seek alcohol detox and a treatment program. Be open with them about your concerns. Ultimately, the decision belongs to them – it is okay to walk away if you need to.

Getting Help For Alcohol Use Disorder 

Are you ready to get help for an alcohol use disorder? Located in Santa Ana, CA, Pacific Sands will help you take the first step toward a new life. We are a small facility with a maximum of 15 clients. This allows us to focus on you as an individual in your early stages of recovery. Call us today at 949-426-7962 for more information about our alcohol use disorder treatment options. 


Why am I blacking out when I drink?

Many people experience an alcohol blackout when their blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) reach 0.16 percent or higher. It is possible to experience an alcohol blackout at lower BACs if you use other substances or take prescription medications for sleep or anxiety. Females are also at an increased risk of experiencing an alcohol blackout than men.

What happens to your body when you blackout?

When experiencing an alcohol blackout, you are awake and aware of your surroundings and behaviors. You can have entire conversations and perform complex tasks. However, afterward, you might experience memory loss. This memory loss can be spotty, where you have some memories but gaps between memories. You could also experience complete memory loss of the events that occurred while you were drinking. It can be impossible to know if you will experience a blackout, and the best thing to do is to limit your alcohol intake. 

Can you pass out from an alcohol blackout?

People experiencing an alcohol blackout are conscious and aware of their surroundings. However, continuing to drink more could lead to alcohol poisoning, resulting in someone passing out. At that point, it becomes a medical emergency. 


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