Americans have a friendly relationship with blacking out. This can be seen in the box office smash The Hangover. A group of friends black out after a night of partying and hilarity ensues.
The reality of blacking out isn’t a joke. At best, it ruins a memorable night. At its worst, it can kill a person. It may be from a reckless decision or health complications. Consistently blacking out from drinking means an alcohol addiction. People who suffer from alcohol abuse disorders need professional help to return to a normal life.
What Is Blacking Out?
Blacking out is when a person consumes enough alcohol to forget what they’ve done. It’s not usually done on purpose. In other words, it’s like amnesia. Another name for it is alcohol-induced amnesia. It usually occurs when a person’s alcohol level is twice the legal limit to drive (about 0.15 blood alcohol content).
A person who has blacked out may walk and talk normally but won’t remember it. This is especially dangerous because they’re not in control of their actions or memories. A traumatic event might occur during this period unbeknownst to them. Also, this can last minutes to hours.
To continue, this happens when someone drinks too much. Memories before blacking out are still there. Yet, any memories formed during this period of time don’t make it long-term. Additionally, memories in between may seem fuzzy. A person may have a vague notion of what happened before they blacked out.
Someone may be blacked out if they:
- Were binge drinking or heavily drinking
- Have memory loss about a recent event
- Can’t recognize familiar faces
- Have motor dysfunction
- Are urinating on themselves
- Are unable to make sound judgment
- Have impaired vision
In summary, blacking out is dangerous. The more blackouts happen, the riskier they becomes. This can be even worse than passing out because they are still reacting. If they are passed out, they can’t make bad decisions (beyond sleeping). Blacked out people will engage in activities they’ll regret later. It could end in a funny story just as much as death.
Types of Blackouts
There is more than one kind of blacking out from drinking. Blacking out because of a medical condition is different. Blackouts are classified whether or not someone can recall any details. However, it’s important to note that any memory loss from drinking is blacking out. There are two types of alcohol-induced amnesia.
What Is A Complete Blackout?
A complete blackout is when someone has no recollection whatsoever after drinking. This usually happens after binge drinking. It’s also known as en bloc blackout. They could see a video of the entire night and not recall a single moment. In short, this is what distinguishes it from the second kind of blackout.
What Is A Partial Blackout?
A partial blackout is exactly what it sounds like. In other words, it’s when they forget chunks of what happened but not completely. Memories of their drunken experience are fuzzily there. There are a few names for partial blackouts:
- Grey out
- Fragmentary blackout
A person who has a partial blackout may only remember events from a trigger. This could be in the form of a photo, video, or story of what happened. They still won’t remember everything from when they were drunk. This type of blacking out is less dangerous. However, that doesn’t mean no risky decisions were made.
How Does Blacking Out From Drinking Happen?
The science behind blacking out from drinking is complex. Though it’s happened since the inception of alcohol, it eludes neuroscientists. However, they have an idea of what happens to some extent.
For instance, they tracked the brain cells that have to do with blackouts. Neurons are a type of brain cells. Their research debunks the myth that it kills brain cells. Yet, drinking to the point of blackout obstructs the brain’s key receptors. In its place, the body pumps out steroids. This stops the process of strengthening neuron connections.
To put it another way, strong neuron connections aid learning and memory. Since the steroids stop it, that functionality almost comes to a halt. Long-term potentiation (LPT) is the name for the process of fortifying neuron connections.
The Science of Blackouts
There are many receptors in the brain that deal with memory. A portion of receptors carries glutamate, a neurotransmitter. It plays a key role in learning and memory. Exposure to alcohol limits them. On the other hand, it activates other receptors.
As a result, this messes with the nerves in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that deals with emotion and memory. It has a way of connecting emotions with memory to help people remember events. So, these neurons affected by alcohol are found in the hippocampus. Yet, this is only after heavy drinking. Otherwise, they aren’t there.
The hippocampus is in charge of:
- Goal-orientated learning
- Spatial navigation
- Emotional regulation
- Spatial processing
Again, alcohol doesn’t kill brain cells. Moreover, it puts stress on the brain cells within the hippocampus. Additionally, it jumpstarts steroid production. In turn, LPT and memory formation stop.
Neuroscientists who work at Washington University School of Medicine note that it takes a lot of drinking to blackout. The brightest brains can’t figure out the full extent of how it happens. Nevertheless, they hope that studying the process can reveal how to stop blackouts.
How Can Blacking Out From Drinking Affect the Body?
Blacking out from drinking once won’t do too much harm. However, it may make someone feel terrible via a hangover. This might cause dehydration, stomach problems, lower blood sugar, headaches, light sensitivity and cause insomnia. A day or two of this is enough to make most stop drinking. Some ignore the warning signals.
As mentioned before, drinking affects the brain. What wasn’t mentioned was the effect it has over time. When someone blacks out from alcohol, it means they’re drinking heavily. If a person continues this habitually, their brain permanently alters. It will limit their mood, behavior, and cognitive functionality as a whole.
Moreover, “wet brain” can occur. This syndrome is a chronic brain disorder from alcohol abuse. It happens because of a vitamin B1 deficiency. At its worst, wet brain will cause double vision, false memories, leg tremors, memory loss, and loss of motor function. There is a flurry of negative symptoms attached to blacking out from drinking multiple times.
The brain isn’t the only part of the body blackouts affect. It also impacts:
In addition, the immune system is a victim. Binge drinking correlates with blackouts. A person who has a minimum of eight to 15 drinks a week is a binge drinker. That strain on the body can lead to breast, liver, esophagus, colon, rectum, neck, and liver cancer.
These diseases aside, it wrecks the liver and heart. A single instance of drinking too much can lead to chronic health issues. For example, binge drinking can lead to a droopy heart muscle, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and a stroke. In terms of the liver, it can cause a fatty liver, hepatitis, cirrhosis, and fibrosis. Essentially, blacking out from drinking could end in death from health complications.
When Blacking Out From Drinking Gets Out of Hand
Drinking on its own isn’t evil or bad, but alcohol is known to be an addictive substance. The facts show the truth. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 5.8% of American adults problem drink. In other words, about 15 million Americans over 18 have an alcohol abuse disorder.
Repeated instances of blacking out from drinking means it’s out of hand. Binge drinking on paper means a minimum of eight drinks in a week. That said, if any amount of alcohol impairs one’s ability to function, it’s a problem. Plus, it strains relationships when someone can’t control themselves after drinking.
There are questions to ask to figure out if blacking out means a serious problem:
- Are they waking up injured?
- Have they hurt someone and had no memory of it?
- Have friends stopped inviting them out to drink after they blacked out?
- Do they not remember how they got home after drinking?
- Are they blacking out to deal with mental health issues?
- Do they use blacking out to cope with chronic pain?
- Are they drinking everyday and inappropriately?
- Has blacking out ruined their relationships?
- Can they not stop drinking in general?
One yes to any of these questions means blacking out from drinking is out of control. An innocent mistake is different from borderline substance dependency. Blacking out can hurt everyone, including peers.
How To Prevent Blacking Out From Drinking
It’s a personal choice to drink. There is only an issue if a person drinks recklessly. There are ways to drink without blacking out from it. Not drinking at all is the best option. That may not be a realistic option for many. NIAAA found about 85.6% of American adults drank alcohol at least once.
A solid tip is drink a glass of water for every glass of alcohol. This stops the alcohol from quickly entering the bloodstream. This won’t stop it completely, though. In addition, a surefire way to stop blackouts is a portable breathalyzer. In this way someone who drinks can check their blood alcohol content.
Finally, they can decide to drink one alcoholic beverage per hour. Granted, this means one shot or one beer per hour, not one Long Island Iced Tea each hour.
Get Sober Now To Stop Blacking Out From Drinking
Millions suffer from alcohol addiction. Blacking out from drinking is just a symptom of a much deeper issue. Harmony Ridge offers addiction treatment in West Virginia. A lush forest and trained medical staff can help you or a loved one get sober.
We’ve seen many good people succumb to alcohol abuse disorder. Our mission is to provide people the best care when they need addiction treatment. We never judge. A life of respect and dignity is what everyone deserves. Free yourself from the shackles of addiction and contact us. We have a 24-hour hotline, so call us now.