Alcohol Withdrawal and Detox

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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.


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Passing Out vs Blacking Out

Many people do not experience unconsciousness, or passing out, until BAC has reached nearly .3 percent. Even though you are incapable of creating new memories during a black out, a person in a black out is still capable of having conversations, making decisions and even driving a car. Excessive consumption of alcohol causes certain parts of the brain to work less effectively. At the same time, dopamine and norepinephrine levels are rising. This is why you might feel buzzed or stimulated while drinking, even though alcohol is a depressant.  Our ability to think rationally and make sound decisions lives in the prefrontal cortex. As your BAC rises, your prefrontal cortex is greatly impacted.  A blacked out person might eventually pass out or lose consciousness, but one is not necessarily always correlated with the other. Your gender and genes play a large part in whether or not you are prone to blacking out. One might black out but not pass out, and in less common situations one might pass out without having blacked out.

The Risks of Blacking Out

With inhibitions lowered, someone under the influence of alcohol is at a much higher risk of making dangerous decisions. Driving drunk, having unprotected sex, destroying property, getting into arguments or physical fights, or being sexually assaulted are examples.  According to the NIAAA,  25 percent of women in the United States have experienced sexual assault.  “Approximately one-half of those cases involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both.” According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 10,874 Americans died in drunk driving accidents in 2017. It also reported that having a BAC of .15 percent — nearly twice the legal driving limit of .08 percent and the same BAC when blackouts begin — will result in “Substantial impairment in vehicle control, attention to driving task, and in necessary visual and auditory information processing.”

Where Can I Get Help For My Drinking?

If you or a loved one drinks to the point of blacking out frequently, there are many resources available to you. If you drink alcohol excessively, withdrawal can be dangerous, even deadly. Medical detox from alcohol and other substances such as benzodiazepines and opiates is recommended. Atlanta Detox Center is a premier alcohol detox in Georgia, just miles from Atlanta. Our facility also offers medically assisted detox from heroin, prescription drugs, crystal meth, and opioids.   A full medical detox should take place over the course of six to eight days. Detox deals with your physical dependency on alcohol or drugs before you move onto your other treatment services. There, the focus will be on relieving the mental aspects of substance use disorder.  If further rehabilitation is needed at a treatment center, Amatus Recovery Centers across the country, offer a full continuum of addiction treatment services. Inpatient treatment is the most intensive form of substance use treatment, during which you reside in the same facility where you are treated. Inpatient services typically last anywhere from 30 to 90 days. Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) and intensive outpatient programs (IOP) do not require you to live in the facility where you receive treatment. In  PHP you will spend no less than four hours a day receiving care.  It will be offered in a variety of therapeutic modalities include individual and group counseling sessions. IOP treatment provides similar services, usually no less than three hours per week. IOP is a less intensive than PHP, but more intensive than traditional outpatient services, such as counseling appointments, etc. Even after the substance use has subsided, stressors, traumas, and even small irritations can trigger the urge to recur drug or alcohol use. For many in recovery, a full continuum of care is recommended.  Outpatient services along with additional support groups help you create a recovery community. More options include attended 12-step recovery meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). For more information about [acf field=’facility_name’ post_id=’option’], contact an admissions specialist at [acf field=’phone_number’ post_id=’option’] and learn which level of care if the right one for you or your loved one.