Recovery Blog

Alcohol Blackouts Are More Dangerous Than You Think

06 Mar

Late Saturday morning, a flurry of texts go out from hundreds of phones across the US: “What happened last night?” After a night of heavy drinking, waking up with little to no memory of what happened has become so commonplace it’s regularly shown on television shows and in movies. But alcohol blackouts aren’t as innocent as they seem.

What Is an Alcohol Blackout?

Alcohol affects nearly every cognitive function of the brain. Balance, coordination, decision making, and memory are all affected after only one or two drinks. As the number of drinks increases, so does the impact on these functions, especially memory. Drink too much, and your brain’s ability to form memories is completely disrupted for as long as you’re impaired. This is known as a blackout.

Types of Alcohol Blackouts

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are two types of alcohol blackouts. In the milder form of a blackout (known as a fragmentary blackout), you retain some memory of what you did and happened to you while you were intoxicated. In most cases, a simple reminder from someone who was there with you is enough to trigger your memory of the event. However, there is another type of blackout that is far more dangerous.

In an en bloc blackout, all memory of what you did and what happened to you while you were intoxicated is completely erased. Even reminders from people who were with you aren’t enough to trigger the memory. This is particularly dangerous. You may have entire conversations, or engage in risky behaviors such as driving or unprotected sex, without retaining any memory of your actions. You may even become violent without later knowing how your knuckles got so bruised.

Alcohol and Memory Lapses – More Common Than You Think

Many people only drink during social events, believing this to be a safer pattern of consumption. Many people believe that only long-time alcoholics who drink excessively on a regular basis are prone to blackouts. Unfortunately, this type of thinking is dangerously incorrect. According to the NIAAA, blackouts are far more common in social drinkers than was previously assumed. In fact, 51% of college undergraduates report that they have blacked out at some point in their lives.

Blackouts Could Be A Sign of Alcoholism. Call Our 24 Hour Addiction Hotline To Learn More: 772-324-4130

Binge Drinking and Blackouts

Although most people who experience blackouts consider themselves to be “social drinkers”, the fact that their memory has become significantly impaired indicates that they are drinking far more than they should. This type of consumption is often referred to as binge drinking. In general, it refers to an episode during which an adult male consumes five or more drinks in a two-hour period (four or more drinks for women).

In addition to memory loss, this type of alcohol consumption is associated with a number of other risks, such as:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • High blood pressure and stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Unintended injuries (falls, burns, car crashes)
  • Intended injuries (domestic violence, sexual assault)
  • Diabetic complications

The Dangers of Repeated Blackouts

Repeated alcohol blackouts can cause long-lasting damage to the hippocampus (the region of the brain responsible for memory formation). However, few areas of the brain operate in isolation. In addition to affecting the hippocamus, alcohol can also impair the functions of several other areas of the brain. Repeated over time, these seemingly-minor incidents can lead to serious neurological damage.

For example, in people who regularly experience blackouts, whether from social drinking or long-term alcoholism, the body can become deficient in thiamine. Thiamine is an important vitamin, also known as Vitamin B1. A thiamine deficiency can cause symptoms such as problems with muscle coordination and vision, and mental confusion. In some cases, permanent memory and learning deficiencies can develop.

Repeat blackouts are also an indicator of a growing emotional dependence on alcohol. If you regularly feel the need to “smooth the way” with a few drinks in order to handle social situations, it indicates a problem. This is one of the earliest signs of alcoholism, and is a clear sign that it’s time to seek help.

Don’t Let a Small Problem Escalate

If you regularly experience blackouts after a night of drinking, it’s important that you seek help, even if you are later able to remember things that happened to you during the blackout. These episodes can rapidly escalate to full-blown alcoholism. “Drinking to forget” isn’t innocent, and it isn’t a safe coping mechanism. This can lead to serious health problems down the road. It’s important to seek help and enter a detox program as soon as possible.

We Can Help

At Wellness Counseling and Residential Detox, we understand the progression of alcohol abuse from seemingly-innocent social drinking to a major problem. We understand that a different approach is needed for those who experience occasional blackouts than for those who are experiencing long-term alcoholism. Call us 24/7 at 772-324-4130 to speak to one of our admissions coordinators. We can help you find a program that will suit your specific needs and budget. In many cases, we can even get you into rehab the same day you call us.

If You or Someone You Love Is Struggling with Alcohol Addiction. Call Our 24 Hour Addiction Hotline: 772-324-4130