A Night You Can’t Remember: Alcohol Induced Blackouts


What’s worse than recalling an embarrassing thing you did while you were drinking? Not remembering anything at all. Coming to the realization that you were in a blackout can be a scary way to wake up. You may ask yourself a variety of horrifying questions, including, “What did I do? What happened? How did I get home? Where am I?” You may be fraught with hangxiety and depression, and you may become obsessed with putting together the pieces of the night before. You may feel ashamed and you may feel like you’re all alone. But you’re not. Blackouts happen and if you experience one, it does not mean that you are a bad person. It means that you drank more alcohol than your brain could handle — and you may want to reassess your drinking habits to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

What Is an Alcoholic Blackout?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines alcohol-related blackouts as gaps in memory for events that happened while intoxicated. They occur when a person drinks so much alcohol that they temporarily block the transfer of memories from short-term storage to long-term storage (a process called memory consolidation) in the hippocampus area of the brain. This part of the brain is responsible for storing memories and does not function properly under the influence of alcohol. 

Having a blackout does not necessarily mean that you have an alcohol use disorder or are an alcoholic. According to NIAA, anyone with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.16% (which is twice the legal limit in New York) can experience a blackout. Mixing alcohol with sleep aids and/or anxiety medications can cause blackouts to occur at lower BACs. And drinking on an empty stomach or binge drinking can lead to a rapid rise in BAC. There’s also no concrete science for determining the amount of beverages it takes to cause a blackout. Some people have blacked out after just one or two drinks — it depends on the person. 

Blackout Behavior

During a blackout, people can carry on conversations and complete complex tasks. In fact, the outside world may not even know you are experiencing a blackout. But, alcohol-induced amnesia can be very dangerous. With lower inhibitions and impaired judgment, someone may drive, have unsafe or non-consensual sex, make poor decisions, or partake in risky behaviors. The results can be harmful or potentially life-threatening. 

After one of my many blackout episodes, I was told by friends the next day that while I was visibly intoxicated, I was actually quite funny and seemed to be entirely myself. I of course remembered nothing and was still worried I made a fool of myself, however, my behavior was considered to be not too bad (all things considered). But just because I had one well-behaved instance doesn’t mean that my other blackouts weren’t dangerous. 

I have woken up in strange places, made an ass of myself, and incurred injuries while completely checked out. Once while in a blackout, I slipped on ice and hit my head on a cobblestone street in Boston. I don’t remember anything about what happened, but the next morning I woke up with one of my worst hangovers, a knot on my head, and a blinding headache. What made this instance particularly frightening was the fact that head injuries can be medical emergencies. So while my friends were laughing about how funny my drunken fall was, I was completely freaked out. I could have passed out that night and not woken up the next morning. 

What’s next?

Anyone is at risk of a blackout if they drink fast enough — even if they think they can hold their liquor. We are not healthcare professionals, so it’s always best to speak to your doctor if you are concerned about blacking out, particularly if you are frequently blacking out. Frequent blackouts could be a sign of a bigger problem with your alcohol use. If your drinking is troubling you, there’s no shortage of resources for getting the help you need. 

We’ve been there, we know how you feel — blackouts suck. But just because you had a blackout doesn’t mean you’re defective or a bad person. You just drank too much. So many people have had blackouts, including us. As time moves you away from this incident, it won’t feel as bad anymore. Just be mindful of your drinking going forward and you never have to feel this way again. 

Have you ever had a scary blackout experience? Share it with us in the comments!


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