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Drinking to Forget: What Causes Alcohol Blackouts?

man with glasses looks at his reflection in a mirror and wonders how to get help for alcohol blackouts

An alcohol blackout generally refers to the memory loss that occurs after drinking too much alcohol at one time. This is sometimes also called “alcohol-induced amnesia” or an “alcohol-induced blackout.” Frequent blackouts are a common sign of alcohol use and misuse. As your blood alcohol levels rise, your brain is unable to form new memories, even though you’re still awake and interacting with your environment.

The higher a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the more memory loss they are likely to experience. If you or someone you know is experiencing alcohol misuse and needs alcohol addiction treatment, our treatment center can provide the necessary support and guidance to overcome this serious addiction. Contact us today at 662.222.2989, and we can answer any of your questions or concerns about our addiction treatment programs.

What Does It Mean to Blackout?

Although drinking too much may be what most people think of when they hear the term “blackout.” Blackouts can refer to any partial memory loss or unconsciousness like fainting. Some potential reasons for blacking out include:

  • Drinking too much
  • Brain damage
  • Taking certain medications or drugs
  • Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event
  • Epilepsy
  • Low blood sugar
  • Lack of oxygen
  • Abnormalities of the heart or heart rate
  • Stress or anxiety

Keep in mind that blacking out and passing out from drinking are not the same thing. During an alcohol blackout, you’re still able to talk, make decisions, and continue drinking. When you’re passed out from alcohol, you will be unconscious and won’t respond to stimuli, including people nudging you or speaking to you.

Because everyone is unique, people who are blacked out from drinking may appear to be mainly functioning normally or be so intoxicated that they have trouble walking or standing. Because people aren’t in full control of their bodies at this point, they are much more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drunk driving or unprotected sex as well.

What Causes Alcohol Blackouts?

What causes someone to blackout from alcohol specifically lies in the brain’s inability to function normally and efficiently while someone is under the influence. When you are sober, you form memories by receiving sensory input, processing it, and storing it in your short-term memory. Next, the experience is transferred into long-term memory in the hippocampus by a process known as encoding so that people can recall these memories later.

At What BAC Do You Blackout?

When you drink too much alcohol, the brain is not as efficient, and all of these memory processes become impaired. Specifically, heavy drinking is believed to interfere the most with the encoding stage. As a result, when someone’s blood alcohol level reaches a certain amount, they lose their ability to form and retrieve new memories. For most people, an alcohol blackout starts at around a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.14, but the onset of an alcohol blackout varies from person to person.

Why Do People Blackout when Drinking?

Some people are more likely to black out after drinking than others. While some of this is tied to individual differences, drinking habits can also contribute significantly. You are more likely to blackout from alcohol if you:

1. Binge Drink

One of the biggest causes of a blackout from drinking is consuming too much too fast. When you drink alcohol rapidly, your liver cannot keep up and metabolize the alcohol fast enough. This causes blood alcohol concentration levels to rise quickly until you reach the point of an alcohol blackout.

2. Drink on an Empty Stomach

If you drink on an empty stomach, it won’t take as much alcohol to raise your blood alcohol level as it would if you had been eating. Drinking alcohol without food gets you intoxicated much faster and increases your risk of blacking out.

3. Have a Low Tolerance

Although most people won’t blackout until they reach a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.14, some people may blackout sooner. If you are more sensitive to alcohol than the average person, it may not take as much to cause you to experience an alcohol blackout.

4. Have a Higher Body Mass Index

Body mass index (BMI) refers to the amount of body fat someone has based on their height and weight. A large amount of blood flows through muscle tissue, but much less blood flows through fat. People with a higher BMI have a higher concentration of fat and, therefore, a lower blood volume. As a result, the alcohol in the blood is more concentrated in people with less muscle, leading to a higher BAC faster.

Why Is It Important to Know What Causes a Blackout when Drinking?

Understanding what causes alcohol blackouts is crucial for several reasons:

  • Safety – Blackouts can lead to risky behaviors, such as drunk driving or unprotected sex, increasing the chance of accidents or health issues.
  • Health – Frequent blackouts are a sign of alcohol misuse, which can lead to long-term health problems like liver disease, heart disease, or brain damage.
  • Prevention – Knowing the causes could help individuals avoid situations that lead to blackouts. For instance, avoiding binge drinking or drinking on an empty stomach can prevent sudden spikes in blood alcohol concentration levels.
  • Treatment – Recognizing the signs of frequent alcohol blackouts can help individuals or their loved ones seek professional help and treatment.

Recognizing what causes alcohol blackouts is an essential step toward ensuring personal safety, maintaining good health, preventing severe consequences of excessive drinking, and seeking timely treatment when needed.

What to Do If You Experience Alcohol Blackout Behavior

If you experience alcohol blackout behavior, it’s essential to take immediate steps to address the situation and reduce future risks. Start by acknowledging the blackout and understanding that it’s a signal of excessive drinking that can lead to dangerous outcomes.

Consider reaching out to a healthcare professional for an evaluation and guidance on how to manage alcohol consumption safely. It may also be beneficial to find support groups or counseling to discuss your experiences and seek advice from others who have faced similar challenges.

Additionally, educate yourself on alcohol limits and practice safer drinking habits, such as eating before drinking, staying hydrated, and pacing yourself when consuming alcohol.

If blackouts continue to occur, seeking help from a professional who specializes in addiction or entering an addiction treatment program can provide the structured support needed to overcome alcohol misuse and lead a healthier lifestyle.

Contact Woodland Recovery Center to Start Healing with Our Alcohol Addiction Treatment

We are here for you. Although alcohol is legal for those over 21, its frequent and heavy use is dangerous. Even if you or a loved one is not drinking to the point of blackout, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a concern.

Our rehab in Mississippi helps people quit drinking and teaches them how to stay sober for the long term. Call us today at 662.222.2989 or contact us online so that we can help you or a loved one overcome alcohol addiction and start living a healthier, alcohol-free life.