Substance Use

Blackout Drunk: Signs, Dangers and How to Stop It

blackout drunk woman sleeping in bed with bottle

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When we talk about getting “blackout drunk” it’s not merely a casual term used after a night of heavy drinking; it’s a genuine health concern. Blacking out is not the same as passing out.

The phenomenon of alcohol-induced blackouts is both startling and widespread, especially among young adults and college students.

In this article, we shed light on what it means to be blackout drunk, its implications on the brain, and the long-term effects of excessive alcohol consumption.

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What is a Blackout?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol-induced blackouts refer to “gaps” in a person’s memory for events that occurred during a period of intoxication. (1)

While most people associate blackouts with passing out, an alcohol-related blackout is more about memory loss.

During this state, a person can still interact, make decisions, and perform actions, but these memories may not transfer to long-term storage, leaving a blank slate or ‘blackout’ in their recall. (1)


Types of Blackouts You Can Experience

There are two types of blackouts someone can experience:

  1. The fragmentary blackout (often called a “brownout”)
  2. The en bloc blackouts or complete blackout

Fragmentary blackouts involve partial memory loss, while en bloc blackouts lead to a total memory wipe for a particular period of time.

What Are the Signs of a Blackout?

Blackouts can be difficult to identify due to the fact that individuals who experience them are fully capable of engaging in complex behaviors. (2) (3)

According to the NIAAA, individuals who black out may engage in conversations, drive vehicles, and engage in other behaviors that they can later recall, such as spending money, conversing, and engaging in unprotected sex. (2) (3)

The individual will be unaware that they are blacked out

People who are blackout drunk do not recall these actions because their memories are not stored in the long-term memory of their minds. (2) (3)

The possible signs of being blackout drunk are similar to those of being drunk, and they may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Muscle spasms
  • Vision changes
  • Difficulty speaking

Why Do Blackouts Happen?

At the core of these memory lapses lies the brain’s hippocampus, a region instrumental in forming new memories. (1)

Alcohol affects the hippocampus’s ability to function correctly, causing impairment in transferring memories from short-term memory to long-term memory storage.

The frontal lobe, a part of the brain essential for decision-making, is also impacted by alcohol, leading to risky behaviors. (1)

The rapid consumption of large amounts of alcohol, especially on an empty stomach, causes a swift rise in blood alcohol concentration (BAC). When BAC levels reach approximately 0.16% or higher, blackouts become more probable. (4)

Factors such as binge drinking, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines as consuming four (for women) or five (for men) alcoholic drinks within about two hours, significantly contribute to this phenomenon.

What Happens When You Are Blackout Drunk?

During a blackout, individuals experience a form of memory loss called anterograde amnesia, preventing the formation or storage of new memories. (1)

This phenomenon is linked to alcohol’s impact on the hippocampus, a brain region vital for memory. (1)

The exact science behind blackouts is still under research, but alcohol is understood to alter specific brain receptors, disrupting steroid production. (1)

This disruption weakens neuron connections, impeding memory and learning processes. (1)

Who Is at Greater Risk?

Young adults, particularly college students, are at a heightened risk.

One study suggests that nearly 50% of people who consume alcohol experience blackouts at some point. (5)

Factors like peer pressure, experimentation, and the freedom of college life can lead to excessive drinking, making blackouts more common in this demographic.

What Are The Short- and Long-Term Effects from Blacking Out?

The immediate aftermath of a blackout can be concerning. It’s not just about forgetting; the decisions made and actions taken during a blackout can lead to unintended consequences the next day.

From accidents and injuries to alcohol poisoning, the short-term repercussions can be severe.

Over time, heavy drinking and repeated blackouts can have long-term effects on mental health and the brain’s functioning.

Neurons, or brain cells, can be damaged, and the overall structure of the brain, including the hippocampus and frontal lobe, can be affected.

The short-term effects of alcohol misuse can include: (6) (7)

The long-term effects of alcohol misuse can include: (6)

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver damage
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Bowel cancer
  • Pancreatitis

Further, regular episodes of blackouts might be indicative of a looming alcohol use disorder. The NIAAA states that even a single blackout should be a sign to re-evaluate one’s relationship with alcohol. (1)

How to Stop Blacking Out When Drinking

Avoiding alcohol-induced blackouts means being mindful of your drinking habits and understanding your limits.

The CDC provides several strategies to help ensure moderate drinking or complete abstinence from alcohol: (8)

  1. Set Clear Boundaries: Familiarize yourself with the CDC’s Dietary Guidelines concerning moderate drinking and what constitutes a standard drink. Set tangible goals, such as defining the number of days you’ll drink in a week and setting a drink limit for those days.
  2. Track Your Intake: Over a period, you might forget the number of drinks you’ve consumed. Use methods like noting down on paper, using a drink-tracking app, or making quick notes on your phone to keep a tally.
  3. Lean on Support Systems: Engage with family, friends, or healthcare providers to back your efforts to either drink responsibly or maintain sobriety.
  4. Manage Triggers: Certain situations or environments might prompt excessive drinking. Recognize these triggers and strategize ways to either avoid or handle them proactively.

For those looking for complete abstinence, it might be the most effective way to prevent blackouts and guarantee your overall health.

If maintaining sobriety is challenging, Zinnia Health is here to support you. With a compassionate approach and a network of specialized professionals, Zinnia Health offers a range of services from detox to outpatient treatment, helping you navigate your journey toward recovery.

Reach out to Zinnia Health today and discover a personalized pathway to regain control over your life.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment with Zinnia Health

Embracing the journey to sobriety is a bold decision. Admitting the need for change and seeking assistance for alcohol addiction is often the most pivotal step.

If you’re at this juncture, you’ve already displayed commendable courage.

Recovery paths vary for individuals; it could range from at-home recovery to more structured programs like alcohol rehab. The commonality across all these methods is the indispensability of support.

Zinnia Health stands as a beacon for those seeking assistance, offering comprehensive solutions tailored to individual needs.

1. Detoxification

Detox is the gateway to recovery. Especially for severe addictions, undergoing detox in a medically supervised environment is crucial.

Withdrawal symptoms can range from being mildly discomforting to critically threatening.

At Zinnia Health, we prioritize your comfort and safety, providing medication-assisted treatments to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms, ensuring a smooth transition to the next phase.

2. Inpatient Rehab

Our inpatient rehab offers an immersive healing experience. By staying in a controlled, temptation-free environment, individuals break free from past drinking patterns and rebuild their lives free from alcohol’s shadow.

Round-the-clock medical supervision ensures physical and emotional well-being.

3. Outpatient Rehab

Zinnia Health’s outpatient programs strike a balance between intensive care and daily life responsibilities.

You can opt for varying durations of treatment, retaining the comfort of home while still receiving top-notch care.

4. Individual Therapy

Our therapeutic programs are tailored to address the nuances of your addiction. Our expert counselors employ various methodologies:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Identifying triggers and crafting strategies to dodge relapse-prone situations.
  • Matrix Model: A holistic approach blending cognitive-behavioral therapy, family counseling, group therapy, and outpatient rehab.
  • Contingency Management: Positive reinforcement for sobriety-driven behaviors.
  • Motivational Interviewing: Tailored sessions to maintain motivation levels and facilitate recovery at a pace you’re comfortable with.

5. Group Therapy

Being part of Zinnia Health‘s group therapy introduces you to a community undergoing similar challenges.

It’s a platform for shared learning, experiences, and establishing coping mechanisms, fostering mutual growth. Find Out if You Have an Alcohol Problem With the CAGE Assessment.

6. 12-Step Programs

Our association with 12-step programs like AA and NA extends an additional layer of social support, facilitating the building of new, sober relationships.

7. Medication as a Support Pillar

If deemed beneficial, our treatment plans might integrate medications.

These could serve varied purposes – from curbing alcohol cravings, managing withdrawal symptoms, to addressing co-occurring mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.

Final Thoughts

Being blackout drunk is not just about forgetting a few hours; it’s an indication of how alcohol affects the brain and memory.

It’s essential to understand the difference between enjoying a few non-alcoholic or alcoholic drinks socially and the dangerous territory of binge drinking leading to blackouts.

If you or a loved one frequently experience blackouts, it might be time to consult a healthcare provider or consider treatment options.

Remember, prioritizing mental health and well-being is paramount, and there’s no shame in seeking help.

Seeking Treatment

Alcoholism and alcohol use disorder are very personal conditions that require a personalized solution. 

If you are ready to seek treatment for alcohol abuse, call the Zinnia Health free alcohol addiction hotline at (855) 430-9439 to regain control of your life.


Call us
Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
Why call us? Why call us