Alcohol Blackout Facts And Symptoms: Does Drinking Affect Memory?

Alcohol Blackouts

The phrase “blackout drunk” is one that is used often in media and within party culture. While it is often treated as a punchline, alcohol blackout is incredibly dangerous. To reach the point of blackout alcohol use, the drinker must drink heavily, risking alcohol poisoning. At this stage, the drinker also tends to engage in risky behavior they otherwise would not—called alcohol alcohol poisoning blackout behavior. And since they suffer from memory loss, if something bad happens to them, they are not easily able to seek justice. Wetherill and colleagues (2012) conducted a follow-up study that used a within subject alcohol challenge followed by two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) sessions under no alcohol and alcohol (target BrAC of .08 g/dl) conditions.

Alcohol Blackouts

Finally, given the growing literature on alcohol-induced memory impairments and blackouts, a standardized assessment for alcohol-induced blackouts is sorely needed. Most of the existing research on alcohol-induced blackouts either uses a single item from the Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index or the investigator’s own description/definition of an alcohol-induced blackout. Moreover the frequency of occurrence for blackouts is currently measured in widely different ways, including dichotomous measures (e.g., Yes/No blackouts) and proportion of times drinking that blackouts were experienced (e.g., always, sometimes, never).

The nature of blackouts makes it difficult for researchers to examine the correlation between memory recall and blackout type. It’s important to note that there isn’t a set number of drinks that can trigger a blackout. It all comes down to the amount of alcohol in each drink you’ve consumed and the way alcoholic eyes the alcohol affects you. Many people will struggle to control the amount they drink, fighting frequent and compulsive urges to drink more (cravings). As a person begins drinking on a regular basis, they may begin to develop a tolerance and need more alcohol to create the pleasurable effect they seek.

Health Topics: Alcohol-Induced Blackouts

It’s important to remember that a blackout isn’t the same as passing out. Someone who passes out has either fallen asleep or become unconscious because they consumed too much alcohol. If you experience a partial blackout, visual or verbal cues may help you remember forgotten events.

  1. Blackouts involve complete memory loss caused by your brain’s inability to record new memories for a period of time due to the effects of excessive alcohol, substance misuse or some other condition.
  2. The alcohol-induced amnestic disorder is a long-term effect, permanently changing the way the brain is able to convert short-term memories into long-term memories, even when the person is completely sober.
  3. Sleep helps end blackouts because rest gives the body time to process the alcohol.

Although this part of the brain can build up long-term tolerance to alcohol, this isn’t true of the hippocampus. Marixie Ann Manarang-Obsioma is a licensed Medical Technologist (Medical Laboratory Science) and an undergraduate of Doctor of Medicine (MD). A blackout is not the same as “passing out,” which means either falling asleep or losing consciousness from drinking too much.

Reagan R. Wetherill

For their safety and the safety of those around them, binge drinking should be avoided. It is important to remember that when examining the impact of blackouts, the accused, victim, patient, or research subject is typically being asked to remember not remembering. This is a critical challenge to understanding and studying blackouts, and also raises questions about the accuracy of memories that are reported following a blackout.

Alcohol Blackouts

You may be worried about getting them in trouble, but any information you share can be life-saving, so don’t omit any details that could help emergency responders provide care. Blackout drinking is not just problematic for the drinker; it also leads to troubles for those around them. Because the drinker is still able to interact socially, their friends, family, and others can assume they are just a bit drunk but overall fine. When they are unable to remember events the next day, it can be disturbing for those they were with. They might question if their friend was really their friend, if events were truly consensual, or if they failed them by not realizing they were blacked out and helping them.

Blackouts and Your Brain: How To Avoid Memory Loss

Leading this research, Elizabeth Loftus has authored over 200 books and thousands of peer-reviewed articles which demonstrate the many ways in which memory for events can be distorted or contaminated during the process of recall (Loftus and Davis, 2006; Morgan et al., 2013; Patihis et al., 2013). Provision of misinformation, the passage of time, and being asked or interviewed about prior events can all lead to memory distortions as the individual strives to reconstruct prior events (Loftus and Davis, 2006; Nash and Takarangi, 2011). Consequently, the reliability or accuracy of memories that are recalled following a period of alcohol-induced amnesia are likely to be suspect. Based on the Marino and Fromme (2015) findings, one could speculate that a genetic vulnerability to alcohol-induced blackouts is expressed only under certain environmental conditions, representing a possible gene by environment interaction. For example, a mother with problematic drinking habits might contribute to an environment that is characterized by lower parental monitoring and increased alcohol availability. These environmental factors, in turn, could create stress and contribute to early initiation of alcohol use and maladaptive drinking behaviors in her offspring, especially sons, who are genetically predisposed to alcohol misuse and alcohol-induced blackouts.

The effects of alcohol on memory are due to alcohol interfering with the ability to form long-term memories. Previously formed long-term memories are not impacted, and short-term memory is fine. Questions about blackouts during routine medical visits could serve as an important simple screen for the risk of alcohol-related harms. Research indicates that blackouts are more likely to occur when alcohol enters the bloodstream quickly, causing the BAC to rise rapidly. This could happen if someone drinks on an empty stomach or consumes large amounts of alcohol in a short amount of time.

How much alcohol can cause a blackout?

During a blackout, the individual’s brain is unable to form new memories, leading to gaps in their recollection of events. About 26 percent of Americans 18 and older have engaged in binge drinking in the past month. clonidine withdrawal syndrome are poorly understood by most people because they don’t recognize the risks they or their friends face when they get blackout drunk. With that said, someone who often experiences blackouts does have a problem with alcohol. Those who engage in frequent binge drinking either have alcohol use disorder or suffer from alcoholism. Blackouts involve complete memory loss caused by your brain’s inability to record new memories for a period of time due to the effects of excessive alcohol, substance misuse or some other condition.

They found that alcohol dependence symptoms predicted an increased frequency of blackouts and consequences the following year. Alcohol-induced blackouts during the past three months prospectively predicted increased social and emotional negative consequences, but not alcohol dependence symptoms the following year. These findings contradict Jellinek’s theory of alcoholism, which posits that alcohol-induced blackouts are a precursor of alcoholism (Jellinek, 1952). Studies have also found that women may be at greater risk of blackouts even though they generally drink less alcohol less frequently than men.

What Is an Alcohol Blackout?

Many people who struggle with alcohol use or addiction attempt to hide it. However, if a person looks closely, certain signs may help them discover that their loved one has a drinking problem. Alcohol is dehydrating by nature, so making sure you’re drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated is important. Being aware of potential signs of intoxication can also be helpful in understanding your limitations.

While anyone who drinks is at risk for alcohol blackouts, there are some factors that put people in greater danger of drinking and not remembering things. Women’s hormones and body composition mean they become intoxicated with less alcohol than men, which is why the definition of binge drinking differs between men and women. Because women’s BAC rises faster, they are at greater risk for blackouts. Although our understanding of alcohol-induced blackouts has improved dramatically, additional research is clearly necessary. By fine-tuning our approach to studying blackouts, we will improve our understanding of alcohol-induced blackouts, and consequently, be better situated to improve prevention strategies. Boekeloo and colleauges (2011) examined a different type of drinking motive -“drinking to get drunk,” which the authors defined as “pre-meditated, controlled, and intentional consumption of alcohol to reach a state of inebriation” (p. 89).

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