What Happens During a Blackout – and Why Are They So Dangerous?


If you frequently drink to excess, you may wake up the next day struggling to piece together your memories of the night before. You remember what happened up to a specific point, but after then, things get hazy. This alcohol-related memory loss is known as a blackout.

Why Do Blackouts Happen?

Blackouts occur when your blood alcohol content is high enough to significantly impair your judgment, your coordination and your memory. During a blackout, you may injure yourself because you trip and fall, or you might make a poor decision such as taking other drugs or having unprotected sex.

It’s essential to note that there isn’t a specific number of drinks that can trigger a blackout, and not everyone experiences the phenomenon. It all comes down to the amount of alcohol in each drink you’ve consumed and the way it affects you. For example, you and a friend could each drink three beers and a shot of tequila, and you experience a blackout and they don’t. The difference comes down to factors such as body weight, gender, metabolism and how quickly you consume the beverages.

There are two types of blackouts: partial and complete. In a partial blackout, or “brownout,” you will be able to remember bits and pieces of what happened, whereas in a complete blackout, you probably won’t recall anything you did and said, even if someone else reminds you.

What Happens to Your Brain in a Blackout?

A part of the brain called the hippocampus plays a crucial role in your ability to form new memories. However, drinking to excess essentially turns off this function.

A person in the middle of a blackout can act remarkably coherent and normal. They still function much like they would if they were sober, and can do things like preparing and eating food, getting dressed or starting arguments. Their brain just won’t record any of the memories of their activities.

This seemingly lucid state can make it difficult for friends to recognize when you’re having a blackout, which is dangerous because they might not discourage you from doing something risky like driving yourself home from a party.

Though long-term brain damage is a side effect of alcohol use, a blackout usually doesn’t mean you have damaged your brain. Still, someone who develops a high tolerance to alcohol and frequently drinks to the point of blacking out can prematurely age their brain, causing symptoms that mimic the memory loss common with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Is It Time to Get Treatment?

Experiencing a blackout after a bout of heavy drinking doesn’t necessarily indicate that you have a substance abuse problem, but if you regularly have memory lapses because you consumed more alcohol than your body could process, it might be time to seek help. Alcoholism can be a life-threatening disease, and even if it doesn’t kill you, it can leave your whole life in shambles.

Recognizing that you can break the cycle of addiction is essential to making a complete recovery and living up to your full potential. Contact New Found Life to verify your insurance coverage and start a new chapter today.