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What Does “Alcohol Blackout” Mean? Explained (2023 Updated)

Last Updated on March 16, 2023 by Lydia Martin

Have you ever experienced having an evening out with friends and had no idea how you got back home?

Blackouts are risky and can lead to different health problems, so being aware of the signs of an alcohol blackout can help you avoid getting sick.

However, blackouts are not widely understood by most drinkers. So, what does an alcohol blackout mean? Read on to find out.

What’s An Alcohol Blackout?

Man Drinking Alcohol

An alcohol blackout is a partial memory loss caused by a sudden increase in blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Another term for it is alcohol-induced amnesia.

Although not all drinkers react the same way to alcohol, a person’s BAC should be at least 0.14 percent before they can start a blackout. 

A black-out drunk person may appear to be still conversing yet unaware of their actions, and they can make decisions unconsciously. 

What Happens to Your Body During an Alcohol Blackout? 

What happens to your body during an alcohol blackout depends on the level of intoxication and how long you’ve been drinking. 

“During a blackout, an individual is capable of participating in salient, emotionally-charged events but will have no recollection of what has occurred.”

— Dr. Aaron White, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor of Psychiatry at Duke University

Short- and long-term effects can lead to different risky behaviors of the body [1]. 

Short terms effects may include: 

  • Slurred speech and delayed reactions
  • Difficulty walking
  • Increased impulsiveness and poor decision-making
  • Headaches and nausea 
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea

Long-term effects may include: 

  • Liver disease
  • Memory loss (temporary, but may lead to serious condition)
  • Gag or choke (in sleep)
  • Accident prone
  • Frontal lobe damage 

Who Are Most Commonly at Risk of Having It? 

Woman Drinking Wine

Blackouts are most common among people in middle age and suffering from the risk of alcohol. 

On the other hand, young adults at an early age are more susceptible to experiencing such episodes due to social pressure or certain situations.

Women are reported to have more experience in blackouts than men due to how their bodies process alcohol. 

Those who use drugs such as Xanax or OxyContin, which have sedative properties, are also more prone to experiencing blackouts.   

How Long Does an Alcohol Blackout Last? 

Alcohol blackouts may last for hours. But the body automatically ends the blackouts once it burns the alcohol in your bloodstream.

When this happens, the brain can begin again to generate memories. 

The time varies, depending on how your body process alcohol. It can take an hour or more. 

On the other hand, some drinkers believe sleeping can help prevent blackouts, which allows the body to recover from the effects of alcohol. 

Its Possible Causes

Women Drinking Beer

Blackouts are often caused by different factors. Some of these include: 

  • The weather conditions
  • The others behavior
  • The amount of alcohol consumed
  • Consuming alcohol with an empty stomach

Blackouts can be caused by various factors, such as exposure to toxins, alcohol, or drugs.

There are two types of blackouts: a partial blackout and a complete blackout. 

A partial blackout can allow people to recall certain events with visual or verbal cues, while a complete blackout can lead to memory loss.

How Do You Prevent Alcohol Blackouts When Drinking?

You can prevent alcohol blackouts in different ways. It can be as simple as: 

  • Drink slowly and in moderation
  • Limit the intake of alcohol in your body    
  • Abstain from drinking completely    
  • Food and water can also help avoid possible blackouts

How To Recover From Alcohol Blackouts 

guy sitting on a couch

To recover from an alcohol blackout, here are a few things you need to take notes of: 

  • After a heavy drinking session, get plenty of water and a nutritious breakfast
  • You can also try to piece together what happened exactly
  • It would be helpful to talk to someone about getting help 

The Difference Between Blacking Out & Passing Out

Blacking out is a type of memory loss caused by intoxication [2]. It can’t be recalled because the brain can’t produce new memories due to the intoxication.

On the other hand, passing out is when one loses consciousness and may not be awakened for some time.  

FAQs 

Does blacking out cause brain damage?

Yes. Blacking out can cause brain damage, especially if it happens often.

Heavy drinkers are at risk for different brain changes, as they can develop conditions such as memory loss and slurred speech due to alcohol consumption.

Are alcohol blackouts serious?

Yes. Alcohol blackouts can be serious and may lead to severe health conditions [2].

If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse, we suggest seeking immediate help from professionals. 

What are the health consequences of having a blackout?

Blackouts can have negative health consequences like reduced brain function and socialization difficulties.

It can also lead to alcohol dependence later in life.

In Summary

There’s nothing wrong with drinking alcohol as long as your body can handle the effects afterward.

Too much consumption can lead to detrimental effects on your health, which can be life-threatening. So know your limitations and drink moderately.

These two are simple keys to avoiding blackouts and passing out. 

References: 

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/what-causes-blackouts 
  2. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/interrupted-memories-alcohol-induced-blackouts

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