April 9, 2024

Alcohol Blackout: Signs, Dangers, & What to Do

man looking away representing alcohol blackout

Alcohol blackouts are characterized by significant memory lapses triggered by drinking. An alcohol blackout can result in someone forgetting events that took place while they were intoxicated and substantially heighten the risk of injuries and various dangers. Alcoholic blackouts can happen to anyone who consumes alcohol, regardless of their age or drinking history.

What Are Alcohol Blackouts?

An alcohol blackout is an informal term to describe alcohol-induced amnesia. During a blackout from alcohol, a person may perform actions like walking or talking without any later recall of these activities. Blackouts usually stem from a sharp rise in BAC (blood alcohol concentration) levels, triggering temporary memory loss. Blackouts most commonly occur when BAC reaches 0.14% – that’s almost double the legal driving limit.

Alcohol blackouts can be classified as either fragmentary or en bloc:

  • Fragmentary blackout: Also known as an alcoholic grayout or brownout, fragmentary blackouts involve someone who has partial recall of events after drinking, with islands of memories interspersed with missing chunks of time.
  • En bloc blackouts: En bloc blackouts are characterized by complete amnesia, often lasting for several hours.

Blacking out is not the same as passing out. A person who blacks out remains conscious but loses the ability to form new memories. This means that people can carry out tasks and engage in conversations while blacked out, but they will not subsequently recall these actions. People in a blackout state can remember events that happened before their BAC spiked to extreme levels, enabling them to interact and share stories from earlier in the night, even though they are heavily intoxicated.

Woman with hand on head representing Alcohol blackouts

What Are the Signs of Alcohol Blackout?

Alcohol blackout behavior can be challenging to identify because someone who is experiencing one of these episodes is capable of engaging in complex activities. NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) reports that people who experience blackouts may drive, chat, spend money, and engage in sexual activities with no subsequent recall of these activities. The memory loss occurs as the experiences are not stored in the brain’s long-term memory.

Symptoms that may manifest during a blackout are similar to those of intoxication, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Altered vision
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Muscle spasms

Someone in the midst of a blackout seldom realizes their state, complicating recognition of symptoms.

Dangers of Blackouts from Alcohol

The level of intoxication required to induce a blackout significantly impairs decision-making and cognitive functions. During a blackout, an individual may continue to converse and participate in activities as if nothing is amiss, often leaving those around them unaware of their blackout state. The extent of visible intoxication can vary widely, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed and individual tolerance, making it possible for someone in a blackout to seem either highly intoxicated or relatively sober. This discrepancy poses severe risks, as the person might engage in dangerous activities like driving, unsafe sexual encounters, or other hazardous behaviors, leading to potentially fatal outcomes.

Experiencing even a single blackout poses significant risks. Alcohol consumption can delay signals in the brain that control vital reflexes like the gag reflex, increasing the danger of choking or suffocating on vomit if the person vomits while unconscious. Blackouts also heighten the risk of injuries from falls or other accidents due to the loss of coordination and judgment.

Beyond the immediate risks, blackouts carry long-term health implications. Frequent heavy drinking, to the extent of experiencing blackouts, can lead to degenerative issues and lasting damage to the brain. Specifically, chronic alcohol use can deteriorate the frontal lobe, a brain region responsible for cognitive functions and memory. This continuous damage can adversely affect behavior, personality, task execution abilities, and memory retention over time.

What to Do for an Alcoholic Blackout

If you suspect that someone is experiencing an alcoholic blackout, here’s what to do:

  • Ensure safety: Keep the person in a safe environment. Remove any immediate physical hazards and make sure they are in a place where they can’t harm themselves or others.
  • Monitor closely: Stay with the person to monitor their condition. People in a blackout may not be aware of their actions and can engage in risky behaviors.
  • Avoid confrontation: During a blackout, an individual may not respond to reasoning or remember conversations. Avoid arguments or confrontations that could escalate.
  • Hydrate and rest: Encourage the person to drink water to stay hydrated. If possible, guide them to a comfortable place to rest and sleep off the effects of the alcohol.
  • Seek medical attention if necessary: If the person shows signs of severe intoxication, such as difficulty breathing, vomiting while unconscious, or seizures, seek immediate medical help.
  • Prevent future blackouts: Once the person has recovered, discuss the incident with them. Encourage them to reflect on their drinking habits and consider seeking help for alcohol misuse.
  • Offer support: Be supportive and suggest resources for help with alcohol addiction, such as counseling, support groups, or treatment programs.

Remember, an alcoholic blackout is a sign of excessive alcohol consumption and poses serious health risks. Taking steps to support someone in this state can prevent immediate dangers and potentially encourage them to seek the help they need for their alcohol use.

Alcohol Blackout FAQs      

What do I do if my alcohol blackouts are becoming more frequent?

If you notice alcohol blackouts becoming more frequent, seek assistance from a healthcare professional or a substance abuse counselor. Reducing or discontinuing alcohol intake and seeking professional guidance can help prevent further blackouts.

What causes alcohol blackouts?

Alcohol blackouts are caused by a rapid increase in blood alcohol concentration that affects the brain’s ability to create new memories. Consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period can provoke these memory lapses.

Is it dangerous to blackout from alcohol?

Yes, blacking out from alcohol is dangerous as it indicates a high level of intoxication that impairs judgment and memory formation, increasing the risk of accidents, injuries, and other harmful behaviors.

people at gratitude lodge representing Alcohol blackouts

Get Help with Alcohol Addiction at Gratitude Lodge

The most effective way to tackle alcohol addiction begins with supervised medical detoxification – we can help you with this at Gratitude Lodge.

During detox at our luxury treatment centers in Long Beach or Newport Beach, CA, you can access alcohol withdrawal medications approved by FDA, as well as continuous clinical and emotional care. After a week or so, having addressed the issue of physical dependence, you can move into ongoing inpatient treatment at one of our welcoming and inclusive facilities.

The unique nature of all alcohol addictions means that treatment at Gratitude Lodge is personalized. You may find that the following therapies form part of your individualized treatment plan:

When you’re ready to embrace life unconstrained by alcohol addiction, call Gratitude Lodge at 800-994-2184.

Want to learn more?

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox, facilitating the beginnings of a successful recovery at our rehab addiction centers in Orange County, CA.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse. Alcohol detox may not take as long or produce severe withdrawal symptoms, but it is still an essential beginning to your recovery.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse.
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An essential part of your treatment experience, we offer individual (CBT and DBT talk therapy) and group addiction treatment counseling to help you explore and address the emotional component of addiction, providing you with the tools, self-awareness, and empowerment you need to maintain recovery.
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Dual Diagnosis is a highly effective addiction treatment that addresses substance use and mental health disorders simultaneously. Often co-occurring, these disorders are best managed when treated together with specific and targeted therapy.
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Medication-Assisted Treatment provides you with FDA-approved medications to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal while you’re in treatment. This makes the detox process easier and safer, as well as increasing the chances of a successful recovery.
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