An alcohol induced blackout occurs when a person drinks so much alcohol that his or her long term memory is impaired. Blackouts are not to be confused with “passing out”, which is when a person becomes so intoxicated by alcohol that he or she simply loses consciousness. Most blackouts are caused by the rapid ingestion of a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. In other words, someone who quickly downs several shots of alcohol within an hour is more likely to experience a blackout than someone who slowly drinks alcohol over a longer period of time. This is true even if the person who drinks more slowly ends up ingesting more alcohol and becomes more intoxicated.
When a person has a blackout, he or she will be conscious, but later unable to remember things that happened during the period of intoxication. There are two typical types of blackouts, “en bloc or complete blackouts” and “fragmentary or partial blackouts”. En bloc blackouts are described as the inability to remember anything during a period of drunkenness. En bloc blackouts do not seem to affect short term memory. People who experience en bloc blackouts can carry on conversations and remember things that happened within the past few minutes. However, they will not be able to remember things that happened a longer time beforehand. A person experiencing the more common fragmentary blackout may be able to remember certain events during a drunken period, but they may not remember certain other events and will not realize they are missing the memories until someone else brings it to their attention. People who experience blackouts generally won’t know about it until the next day, when they realize there are gaps in their memory. The memory loss can be as little as a couple of minutes or as long as several hours.
Memory can be affected with as few as one or two alcoholic drinks. Studies show that women tend to experience blackouts more often than men do, probably because they metabolize alcohol differently.
Blackouts are dangerous for many reasons. For one thing, people who are experiencing a blackout are still conscious. Alcohol use tends to lower a person’s inhibitions and impair judgment, which may cause them to engage in high risk activities like drunk driving, sexual promiscuity, fighting, or committing crimes. These high risk activities may lead to any combination of serious injuries, chronic diseases, legal problems, or death. Moreover, a person who is experiencing a blackout may not have any control over their impulses.
The only way to completely avoid alcoholic blackouts is not to drink alcohol. But for those who want to drink alcohol, the best way to lower the risk of alcoholic blackouts is to drink slowly over a long period of time. Allow the body to process the alcohol and avoid binge drinking. Be sure to avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. Food will slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, which will help prevent blackouts. Don’t drink shots of alcohol. Instead, drink beverages with a lower concentration of alcohol like wine or beer, or slowly drink mixed drinks. Above all, it’s good to have a trusted and sober friend nearby to ensure safety.