Getting help for addiction to alcohol or drugs can be a daunting task. For many, the process includes taking a look at your own behaviors and asking, “Am I actually an addict or alcoholic?”
It turns out blacking out has much more to do with drinking a large amount of alcohol on an empty stomach. Many alcoholics are not black out drinkers, and many non-alcoholics people have blacked out.
In this article we are going to address the following questions:
-What is blacking out?
-Why do I black out when I drink?
-What is the difference between blacking out and passing out?
-What risks are associated with blacking out?
-Does blacking out mean I’m an alcoholic?
-Where I can get help for my drinking?
Luckily, alcohol detox is available. So are additional treatment programs if you outpatient treatment to help you further address your drinking problem. Addiction recovery is possible!
What Is Blacking Out?
Alcohol-induced amnesia, more commonly referred to as “blacking out” or being “blacked out,” describes temporary memory loss from heavy drinking. Black outs are brought on by a rapid increase in blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level. This is a consequence of binge drinking.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as having five or more drinks within two hours for men, and four or more drinks within two hours for women. Blackouts typically won’t occur until a person’s BAC has reached .14 percent or higher.
Alcohol induced blackouts can be very scary. You might wake up after a night of drinking and not remember how you got where you are. You might not remember risky behaviors such as driving your car while intoxicated, engaging in unprotected sex or being sexually assaulted.
Why Do I Black Out When I Drink?
As previously noted, blacking out occurs after a bout of binge drinking, which results in a rapid increase in a person’s BAC. But what is happening in your brain during a blackout?
Under normal circumstances, your everyday experiences are all stored as fragments in the prefrontal cortex of your brain as short-term memories.
This includes having conversations. With whom you had a conversation and what you were doing during that conversation (having dinner for example) are all kept in context in the prefrontal cortex.
Neurotransmitters carry those fragments from the prefrontal cortex to another part of the brain, the hippocampus. That’s where those fragments are woven together as a long-term memory. This allows you to contextualize those fragments as a single incident (‘Having dinner with Mom,’ for example).
But one of the impacts of increased BAC is blocking the neurotransmitters which carry those memories. Beginning at a BAC of around .14 percent, you might experience a Fragmentary Blackout. In other words, your brain creates isolated memories but is unable to contextualize them or piece them together as a whole.
Fragmentary blackouts are conversationally called grey outs or brown outs. It is not uncommon for a person who experienced a brown out to regain partial memories if triggered by a setting or conversation.
Raising your BAC further will cause your hippocampus to malfunction, and therefore temporarily block your ability to make new memories at all. This is called En Bloc blacking out. If you experience En Bloc blackout, conversations and reminders about the previous evening will not trigger your memory.