Perhaps you’re familiar with the following scenario: you’re out on the town with the girls. You go out for drinks. You start to dance, and you continue to drink as the night goes on. Before you know it, you’ve had a couple more drinks than you’d anticipated. You write it off as no big deal and continue to enjoy yourself. You wake up in the morning and are immediately faced with the memories of all those embarrassing, drunken antics from the night before. Oh, and you probably have a killer headache, too.
Most women who regularly consume alcohol can relate to this kind of experience. But what about waking up the next morning with no recollection of the night whatsoever?
When a few too many beverages leave a blank space where your memory should be, there’s a definite cause for concern— especially if these blackouts happen often enough for you to be asking, “Why do I blackout when I drink alcohol?” or, more generally, “What causes alcohol blackouts?”
It’s no fun to be left with no memories of your night out, and it’s no fun to be left with the harmful long-term side effects of abusing alcohol over time.
If you often find yourself experiencing memory loss after drinking alcohol, then you’d better get acquainted with the facts about alcohol abuse, addiction, and blackouts.
What Is The Definition Of Alcohol Blackout?
First of all, it’s important to distinguish the difference between blackouts or memory loss from drinking alcohol and blackouts caused by medical conditions. There are plenty of reasons for someone to blackout or pass out that are unrelated to alcohol consumption. A doctor is the best person to ask to determine the cause of your blackouts.
Some common types of blackouts that women experience are:
- Vasovagal fainting. A sudden drop in blood pressure caused by a distressing visual trigger, such as blood. This is a type of anxiety blackout.
- Psychogenic blackout. This involves a loss of consciousness and seizure-like bodily tremors. These can be triggered by a temporary “brain overload” or, like vasovagal fainting, a stressful experience.
- Dizziness and blackouts when standing up. Brief episodes that can last for just a split second. These short dizzy spells can affect women with PMS, circulation issues or vertigo.
Much like stress-related blackouts and fainting spells, alcohol blackouts also involve significant memory and time loss— a classic symptom of amnesia. However, women who black out when drinking usually remain fully conscious, despite experiencing memory loss from alcohol. They aren’t losing consciousness in the moment, they’re simply not recording what’s happening to be able to retrieve it later.
It’s also worth mentioning that blackouts stop the formation of new memories during extreme intoxication. They do not, however, erase old memories.
That being said, alcohol has long been known to cause serious brain damage after continued abuse. This damage can, in turn, result in severe memory disorders like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, also known as “wet brain.”
So while blackouts, themselves, may not destroy your cherished memories, a lifetime of heavy drinking can cause permanent memory loss. If you want to avoid this, it may be time to quit drinking once and for all.
What Causes Blackouts and Memory Loss After Drinking Alcohol?
So, why do you blackout while drinking? What causes alcohol blackouts in the first place? You might think you’re blacking out for no reason when you drink, but that’s not actually true. There is actually a well-defined scientific reason for why the brain just can’t store new memories after drinking a certain amount of booze – why you may experience memory loss after heavy drinking. It’s not a healthy level to surpass, and it is preventable if you use your head.
According to the modal model of memory, the most widely-believed model of memory formation, our memories follow a three-step process: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory, all in that order.
Information that we perceive enters our sensory memory (which lasts for several seconds). Then, if we consider that information to be important, it enters short-term memory. This stage of storage can last anywhere from just a few seconds all the way to several minutes. With enough rehearsal, deep processing, and motivation behind the info, memories move from short-term to long-term storage.
For example, imagine you’re sitting at home watching television. You hear the door open and your roommate call out, “I’m home!”. What you’ve heard is immediately entered into your sensory memory – you know you heard something.
Your brain interprets this as a sign that you’re not alone in the house, and that your roommate is home. The memory of this incident goes into short-term memory. If your roommate walks into the room a few minutes later and you aren’t surprised, the memory of him or her getting home was entered into your short-term memory.
Now, if a few days later someone asks you what you were doing the other day when your roommate got home, or if your roommate came home that day, you probably remember. If you do, then the event was entered into long-term memory.
Once your body reaches a certain blood alcohol level — around 0.14% — the part of your brain that forms long-term memories becomes compromised. This means that you won’t be able to retain any memory of what happened, and that’s what causes alcohol blackouts or any memory loss after drinking alcohol.
In most blackout cases, the problem occurs between short-term and long-term memory encoding. One study showed that intoxicated subjects could recall paired word associations from a list with ease when tested immediately afterward. 20 minutes later, however, most participants had a significantly harder time recalling these same pairs compared to non-intoxicated subjects.
So, using our example from above, imagine the same situation except you’ve been drinking heavily. If you’ve blacked out from alcohol, you still would register that someone came home. You likely wouldn’t be surprised when they walked into the room a few minutes, because you know they’re in the house. But the next morning, you may not remember seeing them, or whether or not they came home at all.
Added to that, intoxicated subjects could recall other long-term memories just as easily as normal subjects. The problem then appears to be that alcohol directly interferes with how the brain transfers information from short-term to long-term memory (also known as encoding), so drinking alcohol was directly linked with this longer-term memory loss.
Returning to the scenario above, imagine the two variations of the scene happen a few days apart: one day you’re sober when your roommate comes home, and another day you’re not. If someone were to ask you about the two instances a day or two after the second incident, you’d probably still remember the first. However, the second incident would be lost from your memory.
And that makes sense, considering the fact that it’s often hard to tell if someone else is blackout drunk or not. They may be able to perform complicated behaviors, like carrying on a normal conversation, because their short-term memory is fine. But they’re often hopeless when it comes to forming new long-term memories. This lack of formation is what causes alcohol blackouts – if you can’t form the memories, you certainly can’t recall them later. If you think this may be true of someone near you, it’s probably time for them to stop drinking for the night.
Do you want to learn more about alcoholism blackouts and what causes them? Take a look at this video.
What Types of Alcohols Blackouts Are There?
It may come as a surprise that not all blackouts from drinking are the same, even if what causes alcohol blackouts is the same process. In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are two general types of blackouts that can occur from drinking too much in a single night: complete (or en bloc) blackouts and partial (also known as fragmentary) blackouts.
- En Bloc Blackouts – During an en bloc blackout, you’re unable to recall any details whatsoever after the blackout. All memory of the night is lost after drinking alcohol. This remains true even after other people that were there tell them about what happened to try and cue any recall. The NIAAA describes the state as if “the process of transferring information from short-term to long-term storage has been completely blocked off.”
In fact, en bloc blackout sufferers have been shown to have a near completely intact short-memory for up to 2 minutes during the sessions. After that, though, these memories are usually lost in the ether, so to speak.
If you can’t remember anything from the night before, even though your friends try again and again to remind you, then it’s likely you’ve experienced an en bloc blackout. This is a much more complete form of memory loss after drinking than a fragmentary blackout.
- Fragmentary Blackouts – As opposed to en bloc blackouts, fragmentary blackouts ones create memory lapses in small chunks. Someone experiencing a fragmentary blackout will often become aware that they’re missing memories about an event only after being reminded by others that the events occurred.
One of the most noticeable differences from en bloc is the fact that people experiencing fragmentary these types of blackouts will usually be able to actually retrieve some of the missing information after being reminded of an event.
Fragmentary blackouts are far more common than en bloc blackouts. And if things about the night before just seem a little bit hazy but you still have at least some idea of what went on, it’s likely you experienced a fragmentary blackout. If you haven’t experienced a fragmentary blackout yourself, it’s likely a friend has.
Fragmentary blackouts tend to be those depicted in entertainment media, too. Often, a character won’t remember anything at first, but they’ll have a startling realization of what happened once someone prompts them.
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What Is the Difference Between Passing Out and Blacking Out When Drinking?
Many people confuse passing out with blacking out or having memory loss after drinking. While both of these things can happen when you drink too much alcohol, they’re both very different from one another.
Blacking out involves a loss of memory whether it’s an en bloc blackout or a fragmentary blackout. Your brain simply stops recording or writing down what happened. If you’ve blacked out, you will not be able to remember what happened since your brain cannot form new memories. This doesn’t mean that you’re not conscious. But as we’ve explained above, what causes alcohol blackouts is different than what may cause someone to pass out.
If you’re blacked out, you can still do a lot of things. In fact, many people may not even realize that you’ve had too much to drink and that it’s probably time for you to stop drinking for the night. You can still make decisions in the moment. You simply won’t remember making them in the near future or, perhaps, the next day.
For example, imagine you’re at a bar and you’ve been drinking quite a bit. You meet someone, and they tell you their name. Even if you’re blackout drunk, you’ll probably be able to introduce this person to your friend a couple minutes later. It’s just the next morning, or even a few hours later, that you won’t be able to recall meeting the new person, much less his or her name. But because you’ve known your friend for longer, and presumably met them when you were sober, you won’t forget their name.
Passing out is a completely different thing, and is usually caused by something different than what causes blackouts from alcohol. If you pass out from drinking, you are losing consciousness. This means that you can’t be awakened. It’s not the same as sleeping and it’s also not the same as blacking out when drinking or in other circumstances. Unlike with a blackout, you won’t be able to walk, talk or even do basic activities when you’re passed out. Passing out is definitely one of the major signs of alcohol poisoning.
In the situation above, you would never even meet the new person, because you would be lying unconscious somewhere and unable to take in any information, much less introduce yourself.
Both of these things are signs that you’ve had too much to drink and it’s time to stop drinking for the day. However, they’re not necessarily the same thing. If you’ve experienced one or the other or both, you might have a drinking problem that needs to be addressed. Either way, it’s time to take a harder look at your relationship with liquor and maybe even time to quit drinking altogether. The lasting effects of both blacking out and passing out from alcohol can be severe.
What Does Blacking Out From Alcohol Do to Your Brain?
Too much alcohol will have a negative effect on a women’s health. When someone blacks out from drinking, it means that the alcohol is interfering with some crucial pathways in the brain. Both en bloc blackouts and fragmentary blackouts may be a sign that it’s time to quit drinking because what causes alcohol blackouts can often also cause other, longer-term problems.
So, what does too much alcohol do to the brain? What causes alcohol blackouts? What are the mechanisms behind memory loss after drinking? How does it interfere with the formation of new memories?
Since alcohol blackouts prevent your brain from recording any new memories, we can deduce that it causes a neurophysiological response in the brain.
Too much alcohol results in a chemical disruption in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is an important part of the brain that’s integral to memory formation. If it’s not functioning properly, both your short-term and long-term memory will be affected. It’s also responsible for many other critical functions as well.
To cause blackouts, alcohol interferes with specific receptors in the hippocampus. In particular, it prevents glutamate from being transmitted. Glutamate is basically a messenger that activates certain neurons.
When your brain activates these neurons, the neurons produce steroids that prevent them from communicating with one another. This blocks a process known as long-term potentiation (LTP). This process is crucial in learning and memory creation.
Studies have found that a lack of glutamate in the brain causes memory loss involved with aging. Glutamate control can prevent memory loss involved with anterograde amnesia.
In short, alcohol basically causes an effect that’s similar to anterograde amnesia. The take-home message is that too much alcohol is toxic to the neurons in your brain. And just like the presence of toxins in your food would indicate it was time to stop eating, this toxicity of alcohol indicates that it’s time to stop drinking. Your body simply can’t handle the levels of alcohol associated with blacking out.
The hippocampus is not the only region in the brain that’s affected. Other regions involved with cognitive functioning and attention are also affected during both en bloc and fragmentary blackouts.
How Common Is A Blackout from Drinking?
Believe it or not, blackouts are actually a lot more common than most people think. One study surveyed almost 800 students at Duke University and found that over half of the respondents had experienced a blackout at some point in their lives. The average number of blackouts between them was six separate incidences.
Of those same students, around 9% of those who had drunk within two weeks before being surveyed had experienced a blackout in that time.
It isn’t just Duke students either. Another study of over 4,500 students found that a whopping 12% of incoming freshman who had drunk within the last 2 weeks had already experienced a blackout before college.
So, even though most people may not talk about how often they’re blacking out when drinking, it’s actually more common than people think. And, because fragmentary blackouts are the more common type, most of these students probably experienced fragmentary blackouts.
But just because blacking out is common doesn’t mean it’s okay or healthy for you.
How Can You Test Whether Someone Is Blacked Out When Drinking?
It can be hard to tell whether someone is blacked out from drinking. After all, they can still walk, talk, hold a conversation and do some basic tasks. In many situations, there are no obvious telltale signs. Even if you know what causes alcohol blackouts, you may not know if those things have happened to a friend.
Someone who is blacking out when drinking may not necessarily fall down or vomit. They may not stumble around when walking or seem like they’re out of it. They may even seem more sober than those who have had less to drink.
The scary thing about an alcohol blackout is that the person, who is blacked out, may look completely normal and fine. No one around them may even realize that they’ve blacked out.
So, is it possible to tell if someone is blacked out? Are there any tests that can diagnose alcoholism blackouts?
If you notice someone repeating the same stories and questions again and again, take that as your first clue. It’s one of the many signs of excessive drinking – memory loss from alcohol. Pay close attention to these individuals. They may need additional care and help. It’s probably time for them to quit drinking for the night.
Dr. Donal F. Sweeney has come up with two extra tests that may help. They include the short term memory test and the three-word game.
Conduct these tests if you believe that someone may have blacked out from drinking, preferably as soon as you suspect it. Perhaps agree with your friends to test each other regularly even if you don’t suspect that you’re blacking out, just to be sure. If they fail these tests, don’t leave them alone. You never know what they’re capable of. They may end up hurting themselves or engaging in risky behaviors and activities without even realizing it. And if you know a friend has blacked out but you haven’t done anything, you’re saying you’re okay with whatever happens to them next as a result.
Short Term Memory Test
The short term memory test is, perhaps, the simpler test of the two. If you have been around the suspected blackout victim for some time, ask them questions about what had just happened or what they said 5 minutes ago.
A person suffering from alcoholism blackouts will have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. They won’t remember something that happened 5 or 10 minutes ago even if it was something quite memorable.
You can ask them questions like:
- Who they were talking to
- What they were doing anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes prior
- What they said to other people or the type of conversations they had
- Where they were previously and what they did
- When they did a certain action, like take off their jacket or grabbed another drink
If the person seems to have no memory of what happened, it’s safe to assume that they’re in a blacked out state. You need to stop them from drinking any further. You should also stay by their side to make sure that they’re safe.
And if the answers to all of those questions would be easy to guess or vague, consider saying or doing something and seeing if they remember it happening 5 minutes later.
As you can imagine, someone who doesn’t remember anything that just happened can be in a lot of danger. They likely won’t remember how much they’ve had to drink. They probably also won’t remember where their friends are, what their plans are for getting home at the end of the night, or other important information.
If you still have doubts after administering the short-term memory test, you can also try the three-word game. This test is a bit more complicated; however, it’s still fairly simple.
Come up with 3 unrelated words and tell them to the person you suspect to be blacked out. The words don’t necessarily have to be difficult. They can be fairly simple, like “red, basketball, and cloud”. Make sure that they’re unrelated to each other and your surroundings, so they’re harder to remember.
Ask the suspected blacked out individual to repeat these words to you. They should have no difficulties with this and should be able to repeat the same 3 words to you with confidence. After all, their immediate memory should still be intact and functioning.
Next, distract the person. You can either walk away for a few minutes or change the subject. Try to wait 5 minutes before asking the person what those 3 words are.
In general, if the person can remember 2 out of 3 words, he or she is safe and not blacked out. If he or she can’t remember 2 words or even a single word, there’s a good chance that he or she is blacked out. Once again, you shouldn’t leave this person alone. Stay with him or her to make sure that he or she is safe. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Finding this person a ride home or accompanying them yourself is one of the best things you can do for them.
Who Is at Risk for Blacking Out When Drinking?
Some people are simply more likely to blackout than others. Risk factors that may increase a person’s risk of blacking out when they drink include:
- Being affiliated with a Greek system
- Having a family history of alcohol abuse
- Prepartying or pregaming frequently
- Playing drinking games with shots of hard liquor
- Having experienced blackouts recently
- Drinking too much alcohol too quickly
- Not having eaten much that day or since beginning to drink
Basically, those who see a quick spike in their blood alcohol level will be more likely to blackout. The solution to this is to drink less and to drink at a slower rate. Drinking on a full stomach can also help, so it can be beneficial to eat before you go out and continue to eat throughout the night.
Also, women are more likely to blackout than men. This is mainly attributed to the fact that a woman’s blood alcohol content (BAC) will usually rise quicker than a man’s BAC. Women tend to have less water in their bodies to dilute the alcohol. They also have less gastric dehydrogenase. This is an important enzyme involved in the breakdown of liquor.
Those who blackout often should really consider whether or not they’re alcoholics. There’s a fairly good chance that they have a drinking problem, and there’s also a fairly good chance that they need help. There’s no shame in needing help, but there is shame in refusing to get it.
Putting down the bottle after a long time of abuse is never easy. Alcoholics are more likely to get sober if they get help from an alcohol rehab center. They’ll need a comprehensive treatment plan that includes alcohol detox and therapy.
This news may be discouraging, but it should really give you hope. If you’re an alcoholic, your drinking has probably already affected your life. It’s important to keep in mind that there are many people, organizations, and resources for alcoholics. You aren’t alone in your alcoholism, and you won’t be alone for the recovery.
If I Black Out When Drinking, Am I An Alcoholic?
Rest assured, just because you blacked out last weekend after a night of heavy drinking, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re an alcoholic. As we’ve seen, as many as half of the population has probably blacked out at least once in their lives. Not all of these people are struggling with an actual alcohol use disorder.
That being said, if blackouts are a frequent occurrence and are even starting to have a negative effect on your life as a whole, it may be a sign of an underlying addiction. Perhaps half the population has blacked out once, but half the population doesn’t blackout three times a week, every week. It’s also not normal for individuals to blackout when drinking alone or to blackout in the morning or during the day.
It’s important to note that alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction are two very different things. Abuse is using a substance in a way that it isn’t meant to be used.
For example, frequently consuming more than the daily recommended value of alcohol is considered to be abuse. Addiction, on the other hand, is the compulsive seeking of and use of alcohol despite negative consequences in your life. Those who abuse alcohol really could stop drinking whenever they want. Those who are alcoholics may claim that this is true, but it’s probably not unless they accept help.
If you think you or someone you know has become an alcoholic, have a look at this short online quiz to get a better idea of the situation.
Sometimes our relationship with alcohol can get out of hand, and cause serious concerns for both our health and wellbeing. It’s a common problem today. After all, Alcohol Use Disorder among women is on the rise. But just because it’s common, it doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous.
So, could it be time to stop drinking for good?
If you care about someone and think they may have a problem with alcohol, you shouldn’t back down from telling them so and helping them find help. And you should be sure to give yourself the same consideration.
7 Signs That Blackouts Are Getting Out of Hand
It can be hard to know whether you’re at risk of developing a crippling addiction to alcohol. Even if the signs are all right in front of you, denial when it comes to alcoholism is both overpowering and rampant.
In fact, the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that of the 13.9 million U.S. adults that needed alcohol use treatment and didn’t receive it, a staggering 96.7% didn’t do so because they didn’t think they had a problem at all. That’s 13.5 million alcoholics who are in complete denial of their addiction. Those statistics also show that most people do seek out some sort of help once they realize that they have a problem.
That’s why it’s so important to take a long hard look at your drinking habits, or those of your loved ones, every now and again. You might start to realize that a loved one’s or your relationship with liquor is not as healthy as you think.
If you’ve noticed that you’ve blacked out recently after a night out drinking or if you’ve noticed that the frequency of which you’re blacking out when drinking has increased, it’s time to quit drinking, or at least take a long and hard look at your drinking habits. Be honest with yourself. If you don’t, you’re not going to get the help that you need.
Ask yourself whether you’ve been drinking too much, or whether your drinking has gotten out of hand. Consider the amount that you drink. Is it a lot more than before? Think about whether you’ve made some regrettable choices and poor decisions while drunk. Do you remember making those choices? Or, did someone have to tell you about them once you’ve woken up and sobered up the next day? Is your drinking affecting your job, your family, or your physical health?
Alcoholism blackouts can cause many unwanted consequences. If you’ve noticed any of the 7 scenarios below, it may be time to change your relationship with alcohol – and fast. While the change may be hard, it will also be worth it to restore your control over your own life, relationships, and health.
1. You Struggle To Remember What Happens When You Drink
The most obvious indicator that your drinking has become problematic is memory loss after drinking alcohol. It shouldn’t be surprising that a large chunk of time missing from your memory can cause intense feelings of anxiety over what you did or said during this time.
What did you say when you were blacked out? Did you make a fool of yourself? What about that secret that you swore never to tell – did you let that slip? Or did you insult someone else or make him or her feel uncomfortable? Who spoke with you or saw you? Is there a recording or pictures?
So how can you remember your blackout experience? You may be able to partially recall events with the aid of photos, videos, or information from other people who were with you at the time of the blackout, if you experienced a fragmentary blackout. Despite being blacked out, you were probably still awake. If you were unconscious, you passed out. As we described above, passing out is different from blacking out.
Unfortunately, most sufferers of alcohol blackouts are unable to recall what happened. This is known as a complete blackout. While it is distressing, it’s also all too common among heavy drinkers, especially alcoholics.
If you can still recall some memories or if you have a hazy idea of what happened, you’re still not in the clear. As long as you struggle to remember what happens after you drink, there’s a good chance that you are abusing alcohol. If you’re drinking enough alcohol that it affects your brain, it can’t be healthy for you.
Someone who has a good relationship with alcohol or who doesn’t have a drinking problem will clearly remember what happened after they’ve started drinking. They won’t need someone else to remind them. This is normal, and this is healthy. Anything else could indicate that they have a problem.
2. Blackouts Are Affecting Your Relationships
If you’re a social drinker with a tendency to blackout, then your friends, family or even colleagues have probably seen you in this state. Heavy alcohol consumption and blackouts affect everyone differently. You may, for instance, seem totally normal to everyone around you at the time, even though you don’t remember the experience at all. If you spent this time with people you love and enjoy, this can be devastating. You’ve robbed yourself of memories with these people you care about.
Or you might act very out of character – calm and relaxed people can seem anxious and angry. Others who are more tightly wound may be all giggles and smiles. It just depends on the individual.
But no matter what kind of person you are, blackouts can be frightening because they can turn you into someone else entirely. Your personality, demeanor, and decision-making skills can all change drastically under the influence of alcohol.
Negative behaviors associated with alcohol blackouts include:
- Acting inappropriately toward your friends or — worse yet — your coworkers
- Angry behavior
- Uncontrollable sadness or crying
- An inability to take care of yourself, requiring others to “babysit” you
- “Blackout rage”
These embarrassing blackout behaviors can have a lasting negative effect on your interpersonal relationships. It’s difficult to make amends for your blackout drunk actions when it’s impossible to remember what you did. This can cause feelings of guilt and confusion. Not to mention, it makes you less likely to be invited to future social gatherings.
If people have begun to respond to your problems with alcohol by avoiding your or not inviting you out, you’re likely to end up feeling very alone. This is also unhealthy. But being avoided by loved ones is a good indicator that you’re letting alcohol control you and your life.
Eventually, your friends or loved ones may even stage an intervention to help convince you to get a handle on your drinking.
If you’ve already noticed that blackouts are ruining your relationships, the first thing you need to do is to put down the bottle. The second thing you need to do is get professional help. Alcohol rehab centers and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings will encourage you to admit to your wrongdoings and to make amends for them. Family programs and therapy can also help. Most agree that no recovery from alcoholism is complete without making amends for your actions committed when you were drunk.
Additionally, there are programs designed for the loved ones of alcoholics. Al Anon and Alateen are programs designed to help the loved ones of alcoholics, both children and teens and adults, many of whom suffer just as much or more than their alcoholic friend or family member.
3. You Sometimes Feel Unsafe After Drinking
It doesn’t matter how safe your local area is— if you’ve consumed enough alcohol to trigger a blackout and are on your own, you aren’t capable of looking after yourself.
You may attempt to take yourself home while blacked out, only to realize you’re unable to find your way and are lost. You might even pass out and injure yourself during the fall, with no one around to help you.
The risk of injury after drinking isn’t just speculation either. Instead, it’s been well documented by global administrations like the World Health Organization. A 2009 report showed that drinking increases the relative risk of injury many times over.
The risk of falls and trips, for instance, increase by 339% while intoxicated. Other injuries like choking, burning, and drowning jump by more than 230%. And intentional injuries caused by someone else rise by a whopping 2,150%!
When you blackout, your ability to make important decisions is impaired. This includes your ability to consent to sex.
Make no mistake: a woman’s inability to say “no” is not consent. No woman should be held responsible for avoiding sexual harassment. Being assaulted is never your fault.
But being in a blacked out state can make it much more difficult to escape unwanted and potentially dangerous situations. A report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that as many as 79% of all sexual assault victims were consuming alcohol at the time of the crime.
On top of that, even consensual sex becomes far more dangerous. Impaired decision making can and often does lead to unprotected sex, which of course can expose you to STIs as well as unwanted pregnancies.
According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:
Young adult drinkers are twice as likely as non-drinkers to have had a sexually transmitted disease during the past year. Heavy drinking males are almost four times as likely, and heavy drinking females are three and a half times as likely.
Waking up in the morning and experiencing memory blackouts from the night before would trigger anxiety in anybody. But finding a stranger in bed with you and being unable to recall if you consented to sleeping with them is an experience that no woman should have to go through.
If you’re ever worried about your safety when drinking, make sure that you come up with a concrete plan before you go out. Talk to your friends. Make sure that they watch how much you drink. You, yourself, should also limit how much you drink.
You should also talk about expectations before heading out. Talk to your friends about what behaviors are acceptable, and what behaviors are not. Talk about how the night should go. If unexpected things start to happen, it might be time for everyone to call it a night and go home.
Another good idea is to head home with someone the moment that you start to feel drunk. Friends should also keep an eye out for whether someone has blacked out when drinking. It’s important that no one leaves someone who has blacked out alone. The blacked out individual is not capable of making sound judgments. This is also why it’s important to only go out with friends you trust and to not drink excessively in new or unknown environments.
4. Your Blackouts Sometimes Involve Other Substances
Excessive drinking might not be the only thing contributing to your memory loss. Some drugs can cause blackouts when taken on their own. This risk is even higher when alcohol is involved.
And this is especially bad news because heavy drinkers, in general, are statistically more likely to combine drinking with other substances of abuse. The well-respected and highly cited College Alcohol Study (CAS) (which sampled data from 119 different U.S. colleges) found that compared to non-drinkers, frequent binge drinkers were:
- Four times more likely to use marijuana
- Five times more likely to use amphetamines and LSD
- Six times more likely to use hallucinogens
There are many drugs that have the potential to make you blackout if taken with alcohol. These include:
- THC (cannabis or marijuana)
- Opioids (such as morphine, heroin, or prescription painkillers)
- Stimulants (such as cocaine and amphetamines)
- Benzodiazepines (“benzos” like Xanax or Ativan)
Combining alcohol with benzodiazepines or opioids carries a particularly high risk of blackout. All three substances are depressants, and so the effects of the opioids and the benzos are enhanced by alcohol — which makes the risk of overdose high. You could even suffer respiratory failure and die. No matter how tempted you might be, avoid mixing these substances.
What many people don’t realize is that it is also highly dangerous to mix alcohol with caffeine. This is perhaps the most common thing to find with alcohol. But just because caffeine is legal doesn’t mean that it’s safe, especially with alcohol.
If you regularly find yourself using alcohol and another drug (even caffeine) simultaneously, you have a problem and need to stop.
5. You’re Experiencing Health Problems Related to Your Drinking
It’s no secret that alcohol consumption is bad for your health. But when you’re regularly drinking enough alcohol to cause frequent blackouts, the toll on your body is massive.
Binge drinking in a short amount of time can cause mild or even severe alcohol poisoning. Symptoms range from disorientation and vomiting to seizures and even death.
Alcohol poisoning can last just a few hours, but it could also cause you to slip into a coma for days. You might not ever come out of that coma.
How much do you have to drink to get alcohol poisoning? That’s dependent on a lot of factors, such as your weight and what you’d eaten recently. On average, your liver can only process one standard drink an hour. Any more than that is putting you at risk.
If you’re suffering from alcohol poisoning, you must be treated at a hospital. This can mean the difference between life and death. However, it can be very difficult to get the help you require when in a blackout drunk state, especially if you’re alone or have passed out— a common consequence of alcohol poisoning.
And don’t think that you’ll pass out before you’re able to drink enough to cause serious damage. It’s definitely possible to consume a lethal level of alcohol before passing out.
If you pass out from alcohol poisoning, you could also risk choking on your own vomit whilst unconscious or accidentally breathing it into your lungs (called aspiration pneumonia). As disgusting as that sounds, it happens to many people and can be fatal.
A bout of alcohol poisoning will result in permanent damage to your body, but so will frequent alcohol abuse on its own.
- Sleep issues
- Weight gain
- Reduced brain function, including difficulty concentrating
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Depression and anxiety
- Reduced liver function
- Heart failure
Alcohol is a known carcinogen. Alarmingly, 7 out of 10 people with mouth cancer report heavy drinking. In fact, heavy drinking significantly increases your risk of being diagnosed with a number of different cancers including:
- Mouth cancer
- Throat cancer
- Voice box cancer
- Esophagus cancer
- Liver cancer
- Colon and rectum cancer
- Breast cancer
When you take into account the numerous other health impacts that alcohol has on the body, it goes without saying that alcohol abuse is one of the most detrimental substances to a woman’s health.
If you are already seeing these side effects to alcohol use in your own life, it’s best to take action now and reverse or halt them while you still can.
6. Your Blackout Drinking Is Starting To Affect Your Daily Life
Whether it’s being unable to perform the same quality of work thanks to a raging hangover or you can’t keep up with your day-to-day obligations at home because of a late night out, if your daily life is suffering because of your drinking, it may be time to cut back on your alcohol consumption.
As much as alcohol has become a part of everyday life for many Americans, this addictive substance is the cause of a huge amount of lost productivity.
In 2010, the economic burden of excessive drinking in the U.S. was $249 billion. Of that cost, 72% was due to losses in workplace productivity. That’s $179.28 billion lost revenue caused by overdrinking.
And if you’re starting to feel like you can’t fulfill obligations throughout the day that never used to give you any trouble, it just might be your blackout drinking lifestyle that’s really to blame.
Cut back on your drinking. Make sure that you stop drinking for some time after you’ve experienced a blackout, and see whether your productivity increases with time. If it does, it’s a good indication that you were drinking too much.
If you’re truly invested in bettering your life, be very honest in diagnosing why things in your life aren’t working out for you. Be sure not to blame others for the consequences of your own behaviors. If you have a drinking problem, own up to it and do something about it.
7. Not Drinking Affects You
One of the most easy-to-spot signs that someone’s heavy drinking is starting to catch up with them is the presence of withdrawal symptoms.
Do you start to feel shaky when you don’t have a glass of wine at the end of a long day? Does your mind begin to get cloudy if you’ve skipped cocktail hour? Does your mood quickly sour at 5 o’clock if you still don’t have a drink in your hand?
Well, these might all be signs that you’re actually going through alcohol withdrawal. While you may not be keeled over the toilet or have uncontrollable tremors coursing through your arms and legs, the fact that your body’s gotten so used to your drinking that it’s physically reacting to a lack of it is bad news.
Here are a few more symptoms of alcohol withdrawal from MedlinePlus to be on the lookout for:
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Jumpiness or shakiness
- Mood swings
- Not thinking clearly
- Sweating, clammy skin
- Enlarged (dilated) pupils
- Insomnia (sleeping difficulty)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heart rate
- Tremor of the hands or other body parts
The intensity of the withdrawal symptoms will vary from one person to another. Some people are more likely to experience intense symptoms based on their biological makeup. The intensity of the symptoms will also depend on the length of the alcohol abuse, the frequency of the drinking, the amount consumed, and more. Many different factors are at play.
Don’t wait until the most intense symptoms begin to get help. Withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and life-threatening. For example, delirium tremens, which happens in 5% of all withdrawal cases, can easily become fatal. If you suspect you’re going through alcohol withdrawal, find help. Professional treatment or rehab centers can ease withdrawal symptoms, keep you safe, and help hold you accountable to your sobriety and recovery in the future.
How Can You Stop Blacking Out When Drinking?
No doubt you’re sick of the confusion, drama and health issues from blacking out when you’re drinking (and your friends probably are too).
So what can you do? Is there some kind of medication that can be taken to prevent alcohol blackouts?
Unfortunately, no such treatment exists. Some people find that they’re more heavily affected by certain spirits, and may choose to avoid them in order to control how intoxicated they become when they drink.
While cutting down is certainly a good first step, it’s important to acknowledge that blacking out when you drink is a symptom of a larger problem: alcohol abuse. Although abuse may not necessarily indicate an addiction, it’s a stepping stone to it.
It’s not uncommon to have trouble exercising willpower around alcohol. Perhaps you find yourself intentionally drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in order to black out. Either way, this kind of behavior indicates a troubling and unhealthy relationship with not only alcohol but also yourself.
But guess what? You’re not alone. Many women across the United States have made the pledge to take control of their lives as sober women. Just like you, they are making that first step toward recovery.
Whether it’s attending your first AA meeting or seeking out more extensive treatment options, there’s no better time to stop drinking than today.
Don’t waste one more Saturday morning feeling confused, anxious and ill. Find a program that works for you and wave goodbye to those lost memories, opportunities, and relationships.
If you have any further questions or if you need any help, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our addiction specialists have the answer to your questions and can help guide you toward a healthier lifestyle. We’ll help you figure out whether you’ve been drinking too much (and what to do about it if you have).
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism