This article explores a topic that raises concerns and questions for many – alcohol blackouts. Are they really a normal part of drinking, or are they a sign of something more serious? Keep reading to find out more.

What are Alcohol Blackouts?

An alcohol blackout is a temporary condition that causes memory loss when alcohol has been consumed. It’s not the same as falling asleep or losing consciousness – it’s losing the ability to form new memories whilst still being fully awake.

There are two types of alcohol blackouts, and these are called fragmentary blackouts and en bloc blackouts. Fragmentary blackouts are a partial blackout type, where the person remembers some but not all of their time. An en bloc blackouts usually occur after heavy drinking, and there is no recollection or memory whatsoever.


Are Alcohol Blackouts Normal?

They’re more common than you think, but they’re also not exactly normal.

Although occasional lapses in memory due to drinking might happen to many, frequent blackouts can be a cause for concern. Consistent alcohol blackouts can be scary to experience, and it indicates that you’re drinking a level of alcohol consumption that is beyond what your body can handle safely.

It’s essential to differentiate between a one-time incident and a pattern of blackout drinking, which suggests a deeper issue with alcohol.


The Common Causes of an Alcohol Blackout

Blackouts are caused mainly by a rapid increase in blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

When BAC spikes in our bodies, it interferes with the brain’s ability to transfer short-term memory to long-term storage, which causes those gaps in memory that people experience.

Clinical and experimental research also suggests that a blackout more commonly happens when our blood alcohol concentrations are 0.20%, but they can also start at 0.14%

Some factors that can cause alcohol blackouts to happen include (but are not limited to):

  • Drinking on an empty stomach
  • Drinking rapidly
  • Engaging in binge drinking and alcohol abuse
  • Frequent, chronic alcohol consumption
  • Consuming high alcohol-content drinks
  • Personal reactions to alcohol (e.g. someone may have a lower tolerance to someone else).


The Key Risks of Alcohol Blackout

When we drink too much alcohol and blackout, we’re put in a state where we’re not aware or in control of our actions. This can lead to potentially harmful situations for ourselves and others.

The common risks of alcohol blackouts include:

  • Safety risks – Because you’re not forming new memories and are intoxicated, it’s common not to think about the consequences, and you might not remember the dangerous behaviours you engage in. For example, this might include walking in unsafe areas or getting into confrontations.
  • Bad decision-making: As we mentioned above, your judgment is most likely impaired during a blackout. Young adults may be most at risk of this, and they might make decisions that they would never consider if they were sober, such as engaging in unprotected sex or experimenting with drugs.
  • Health risks: If you’re experiencing blackouts, it’s a sign that your brain is being significantly affected by alcohol. This level of intoxication can also impact other parts of your body, potentially leading to alcohol overdose or alcohol poisoning, which is when your blood alcohol level gets so high it’s toxic.
  • Emotional impact: Not remembering what you did can lead to anxiety, guilt, and stress, especially if you find out you behaved in ways that are out of character for you. This can, of course, have a significant impact on our overall well-being.
  • Accidents and injuries: Impaired judgement and lack of memory formation increase the risk of falls, accidents, and serious injuries.
  • Alcohol poisoning: Blackouts often occur at BAC levels that are dangerously close to those that cause alcohol poisoning, which can be a life-threatening condition in some cases.
  • Alcohol abuse and alcoholism: If you’re aware that you often experience blackouts from alcohol abuse and feel as though you can’t stop or control your drinking, it can be a sign of alcohol dependency, requiring professional intervention.


See below for advice to help minimise the risk of experiencing an alcohol blackout:

  • Eat a substantial meal before drinking: Consuming alcohol on an empty stomach can increase its absorption rate, leading to higher blood alcohol levels at a faster pace. So, make sure you’ve eaten enough before you plan on drinking.
  • Stay hydrated: Try alternating between alcoholic beverages and water. This not only helps you drink less alcohol over time but also makes sure you don’t get dehydrated – which is one the main reasons why we experience hangovers.
  • Avoid sugary mixers and carbonated drinks: Sugary mixers can mask the taste of alcohol, which can sometimes make us drink more than we intended to.
  • Choose clear liquors: Some evidence suggests that congeners, the chemical byproducts of alcohol fermentation found in higher concentrations in dark liquors (e.g. whiskey), can contribute to the severity of hangovers and possibly increase the likelihood of blackouts. So, if you’re prone to blackouts, avoid these types of alcohol.
  • Monitor your pace: Avoid binge drinking and consume no more than one drink per hour. This should give your body time to metabolise the alcohol and can help keep your blood alcohol concentration lower.
  • Avoid drinking games and shots: Games that involve rapid drinking make the chance of getting intoxicated and experiencing a blackout more likely.
  • Only consume alcohol with people you trust: Choose someone who can help keep track of how much you’re drinking and who can encourage you to slow down or stop if you’re drinking too much.


Worried About Alcohol Consumption? Get in Touch Today

Recognising when alcohol use has become problematic can be challenging, especially as the seriousness of an alcohol-induced blackout is commonly put down to not being much of a big deal. If you find that you or someone you care about is experiencing these lapses in memory frequently, it’s an indicator that it’s time to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol.

At Addiction Advocates, we understand alcohol abuse and how much it takes to reach out for help. We’re here to offer you a compassionate, non-judgmental space to explore your concerns and connect you with the support you need. Our service is entirely free to use in the UK, and we can help you find CQC-registered alcohol rehab clinics. Get in touch on 0800 012 6088.


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