What Happens to Your Brain During an Alcohol Blackout?

The Recovery Village RidgefieldUncategorized

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If you have ever lost time when drinking, it is likely that you have experienced an alcohol blackout. For example, maybe you wake up the next day after a binge and cannot remember the night before, or you wake up in a strange place and cannot remember how you got there, or, perhaps, you cannot even remember how you made it home.

Alcohol blackouts are a danger sign for alcohol use disorder and harmful to both your mind and body.

This article explains what an alcohol blackout is, how it occurs, and what it does to your brain and body. Why are blackouts a strong signal that you may have a drinking problem? Where can Washington State residents go for help with problem drinking?

What is an Alcohol Blackout?

“If recreational drugs were tools, then alcohol would be a sledgehammer. Few cognitive functions or behaviors escape the impact of alcohol.”
What Happened? Alcohol, Memory Blackouts, and the Brain
Aaron M. White, Ph.D.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Too much alcohol consumed too quickly actually causes a chemical reaction in the brain that stops your ability to learn or form new memories. The person literally experiences amnesia tied to the body’s inability to process thoughts.

The symptoms of alcohol blackout include: 

  • Acute alcohol consumption is followed by full or partial memory loss during the drinking binge.
  • You may continue to function during the blackout, laughing, singing, and partying, but the next day you have no memory of what you did. 
  • The substance user will have memories leading up to and after the blackout, but a blank space in recall for that period. 

Handsome man smiling.

A 1969 study defined two types of blackouts called en bloc and fragmentary blackouts. Researchers studied 100 alcoholics, 64 of whom had a history of alcohol blackouts. They determined that en bloc blackouts meant that the person could not remember anything during the binge-drinking episode. 

A fragmentary blackout involves only a partial memory block during the time when the person was most intoxicated. When reminded of his or her behavior after the fact, the substance user is able to recall some of what happened.

What is happening in the body to cause this state? Heavy drinking alone does not cause a blackout. It is the rapidity of the alcohol consumption or drinking on an empty stomach that raises the blood alcohol content too quickly, causing the blackout to occur.

In a blackout, it is as if the channels between short-term and long-term memory are blocked. So the person is actually able to use short-term memory to have conversations or even drive home. However, there is no long-term memory of engaging in any of these behaviors. That potentially makes a blackout the kind of risky behavior that signals a need to discuss help with a Washington State alcohol rehab counselor.

Finding Help in Washington State Alcohol Rehab

If you or any of your loved ones have been experiencing alcohol blackouts, there are addiction treatment resources in Washington that can help you get a handle on your substance use. To learn more about admissions to Washington State alcohol rehab, contact us today.