Have you ever consumed a large amount of alcohol, passed out, then woken up in a strange place with no idea how you got there? If so, you have experienced an alcohol blackout, also called alcohol-related amnesia.
Waking up after a blackout can be embarrassing — and sometimes frightening. Though you might have engaged in a mundane activity like sitting in front of the TV, you could have gotten into a fistfight or operated a vehicle.
Whether or not blackouts have caused obvious trouble in your life, they are a sign of alcoholism. If you suffer from addiction disease, be gentle with yourself. Recognize that addiction is a disease, not a choice. Though this brain disease can wreak havoc on your life, there is hope for healing — you can get your life back through treatment.
What Is a Blackout?
An alcohol blackout happens when you drink so much that you do not recall the events that transpired while you were drinking. It can be difficult to detect when you are experiencing a blackout since you may still function with relative normalcy. You might be able to carry on a conversation, play a game, cook dinner, text a friend, or engage in other everyday activities. No matter how capable you are while intoxicated, if you do not remember what happened, then you experienced an alcohol blackout.
If you retain a few snippets of memories when you become sober again, you may have “browned out” or experienced a fragmentary blackout. Browning out and blacking out are different from drinking until you pass out, although all three of these occurrences indicate a serious alcohol problem.
Blacking out may be a short-term occurrence, but it has lasting consequences. Any level of alcohol abuse can cause serious brain damage, but blackouts are related to additional problems. The long-term effects of blacking out can include an alcohol amnesia disorder like Korsakoff syndrome. This chronic memory problem, usually caused by alcohol abuse, interferes with your ability to learn new information and remember very recent events. Even if you are still able to converse normally, Korsakoff syndrome can create memory gaps so severe that you do not recall stretches of your life.
What Causes Blackouts When Drinking?
First and foremost, excessive and rapid drinking causes alcohol blackouts. The more you drink and the faster you drink, the more likely you are to black out. However, some people are more prone to blackouts than others, and there are a few additional factors that can contribute.
Your body weight impacts your risk for blackouts. The lower your weight, the easier it is for you to ingest too much alcohol.
Drinking while malnourished makes you more vulnerable to a blackout. Often, people who suffer from alcohol addiction disease do not get proper nutrition. Even if you do not drink on an empty stomach, alcohol can interfere with your ability to absorb nutrients from your food, spurring a blackout.
Like alcohol addiction itself, blacking out may be tied to genetics as it appears related to brain abnormalities. Twin studies have indicated that alcohol blackouts, like addiction, tend to run in families. (However, addiction is a chronic brain disease whereas a blackout is an occurrence.)
Legal Consequences of Blacking Out
During a blackout, a person is so intoxicated that they may behave in a starkly different fashion than they would when sober. For example, Duke University researchers conducted a survey of the blackout activities of 772 people. They found that high percentages of survey respondents had engaged in harmful or potentially harmful activities while blackout drunk.
- 16% vandalized property
- 3% drove a car
- 16% got into a fight
- 24% engaged in sexual activity
- 6% had unprotected intercourse
- 27% spent money
Sometimes a person who experienced a blackout commits or is accused of committing a crime during the blackout, but cannot recall the event — or their alibi. In the U.S., 20–30% of people who commit crimes claim amnesia, with most of them saying their memory loss was alcohol-related.
However, this explanation often does not sit well with a judge. Alcohol blackout states rarely alter culpability, and claiming alcohol-induced amnesia is unlikely to be an effective defense. Thus, people who suffer from addiction disease may end up serving a prison sentence for a crime they cannot recall — or may not have even committed.
How to Get Treatment for Alcohol Abuse
If ever you are too drunk and find yourself still drinking, or you experience a blackout, take it as a powerful warning that you need to address your relationship with alcohol. Some of us on staff at The Recovery Village Ridgefield have personally been through addiction and are in recovery. We know that it can be difficult to ask for help, but we also know that seeking treatment is not a sign of weakness — in fact, it is a sign of strength.
At The Recovery Village Ridgefield, we offer compassionate, effective drug and alcohol addiction treatment. Our expert staff uses both evidence-based and alternative treatment methods, from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to art therapy and more. Most importantly, you will receive a personalized recovery plan that addresses your unique personality, struggled, goals, and needs. We approach treatment by seeing you as a whole person rather than just a set of symptoms — this is how we help you find lasting recovery.
Washington State is the ideal location to begin your recovery journey, with its breathtaking views and quiet mountain trails. Amidst the rustic beauty of the Pacific Northwest, our campus is lavishly fitted with plush carpets, fluffy towels, and luxurious beds. The city closest to our campus is Vancouver, WA, though we’re not far from Portland, OR, and just a few hours’ drive from Seattle.
No matter what you are experiencing, know that you are not alone. We are available to talk confidentially with you about your situation and offer as much or as little guidance as you like. There are no costs or obligations associated with calling, just help. Today can be the day you begin the road back to health. Make this your moment — get in touch.
- “Intoxication.” Online Legal and Business Studies – Degree and Certificate Programs, National Paralegal College, nationalparalegal.edu/public_documents/courseware_asp_files/criminalLaw/defenses/Intoxication.asp. Accessed 22 Dec. 2016.
- “Korsakoff Syndrome | Signs, Symptoms, & Diagnosis.” Dementia, Alzheimer’s Association, www.alz.org/dementia/wernicke-korsakoff-syndrome-symptoms.asp. Accessed 22 Dec. 2016.
- Smith, Monica. “Alcohol Can Lead to Malnutrition.” MSU Extension, 13 June 2012, msue.anr.msu.edu/news/alcohol_can_lead_to_malnutrition.
- Van Oorsouw, Kim, et al. “Alcoholic Blackout for Criminally Relevant Behavior.” Harald Merckelbach, The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 2004, www.haraldmerckelbach.nl/artikelen_engels/2004/Alchohol%20Blackout%20For%20Criminally%20Relevant%20Behavior.pdf.
- Vimont, Celia. “New Studies Shed Much-Needed Light on Alcohol-Induced Memory Blackouts.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 15 June 2012, www.drugfree.org/news-service/new-studies-shed-much-needed-light-on-alcohol-induced-memory-blackouts/.
- White, Aaron M. “What Happened? Alcohol, Memory Blackouts, and the Brain.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, July 2004, pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/186-196.htm.
- White, A. M., et al. “Prevalence and Correlates of Alcohol-induced Blackouts Among College Students: Results of an E-mail Survey. PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Institutes of Health, Nov. 2002, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12638993.