What Happens When You Black Out

What happens when you black outBlacking out is often a poorly understood phenomenon. While blackouts can commonly occur during heavy drinking, the effects are typically more dangerous than perceived. What may be shrugged off as one wild night can turn into a harmful pattern of risky behavior and gaps in memory, leaving someone with little to no recall of the damage they have caused.

Consuming a high alcohol content within a short period increases chances of blackouts, preventing the mind from creating long-term memories. Continue reading to learn how blackouts impact the brain and pose potential health risks.

Types and symptoms

Most blackouts result from binge-drinking in a short window of time. Perhaps the scariest aspect of blacking out is that someone can still be functioning somewhat normally during these episodes. Someone who has blacked out may simply act intoxicated, unaware of how impaired their mind is. Symptoms of blackouts are exhibited through confusion about surrounding events, losing train of thought, or misunderstanding normal speech.

Blackouts can occur in two different forms: fragmentary blackouts and en bloc blackouts. The primary difference between these two forms is ability to recall. Fragmentary blackouts result in a partial blocking of one’s memory. People who experience fragmentary blackouts may have trouble remembering what happened during that episode of intoxication, but pieces of memory come back to mind as others remind them of the events. Their memory is jogged by triggers from someone or something that brings those thoughts back to the surface.

En bloc blackouts are usually what people refer to as “blacking out.” In these situations, someone experiences a complete loss of memory during intoxication. When a person is experiencing this type of an episode, they can create short-term memories to stay in conversation and participate in activities, but all future memory of those interactions will be lost. The brain forgoes its ability to create long-term memories, essentially erasing that first-hand history from one’s perspective. Because of this inability to store long-term memories, people may react unattached or shocked when later hearing about their actions from when they were blacked out, feeling incredulous toward behaviors as if it wasn’t “actually them.”

Risks of blackouts

Most people would acknowledge that heavy drinking deteriorates one’s judgment and coordination, but fewer people understand the risks associated with repeated blackouts. Continuing to experience blackouts is often an indicator of an alcohol use disorder, increasing one’s risk for chronic alcoholism. Chronic alcohol abuse increases one’s odds of liver damage, nerve damage, and likelihood of developing cancer. Binge drinking also contributes to amnesia, putting the person at greater risk for memory loss.

While the long-term effects are devastating, short-term effects can be just as hazardous. Blackouts naturally increase one’s inclination to participate in dangerous activity, such as driving under the influence, illicit drug use, vandalism, unprotected sex, and other reckless behaviors.

Using blackouts to escape

Despite all these detrimental effects and health risks, an alcoholic may intentionally seek a blackout as an escape from other thoughts or circumstances. In an addict’s mind, blackouts can be a temporary way out of their misery, numbing the pain or memories they wish to avoid. But this line of thinking is misled—blackouts don’t actually get rid of the misery. Instead, blackouts just have dangerous impacts. Continuing to binge drink and black out is a destructive spiral with huge consequences.

Do you know someone struggling with alcohol abuse? Read tips on how to bring up the conversation on getting help.