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Blacking Out After Drinking

Blacking Out After Drinking

If you’re familiar with binge drinking, you’re probably familiar with alcohol blackouts. The two tend to go hand-in-hand. Maybe you’ve had a night or two where you’ve gone out with friends and had a little too much to drink, only to find you can’t remember the whole evening the next morning. This is fairly common – drinking too much alcohol can cause lapses in memory, a.k.a “blackouts”.

At SUN Behavioral Health Delaware, we know blackouts can be easy to brush off or minimize later. We also know they’re not safe, and they have a history of causing problems. What kind of consequences come with blacking out after drinking? Can you recover, or do blackouts create lasting damage? Just how dangerous are they?

What Is a Blackout?

Alcohol blackouts are temporary lapses in memory. They usually occur as a result of binge drinking, which is when someone has five or more drinks in one sitting. Some people experience blackouts more frequently than others, and there is no guarantee that you will or will not experience one. Because everyone is biologically different, not everyone will experience the same types of blackouts or experience any blackouts at all. Here are some common factors that play a role in whether or not someone experiences blackouts (and how severe/frequent those blackouts are):

  • A person’s weight/height/size
  • How fast a person was drinking
  • Whether or not someone was taking other medications or substances alongside alcohol
  • The type of alcohol someone consumed
  • A person’s gender
  • A person’s alcohol tolerance
  • A person’s metabolism
  • A person’s liver health

What Causes an Alcohol Blackout?

Alcohol affects many areas of the body, including the brain. The hippocampus, or the part of the brain responsible for memory, is particularly sensitive to binge drinking. When enough alcohol is ingested, the brain becomes incapable of forming new memories. It’s almost as if the hippocampus becomes tired and goes to sleep. This is risky for a number of reasons:

  • When you black out, you’re unaware of how inebriated you are, so you drink more. During this time, your inhibitions are low and your judgment is off. You may not believe you’re intoxicated, or you may think you need more alcohol to stay awake or keep up with the party. This can cause you to drink more. Unfortunately, by the time you have reached this level of intoxication, your blood alcohol level is above .16%. When you add more alcohol to this, you’re risking an overdose without realizing it.
  • When you black out, you could be putting yourself in dangerous positions. If you’ve reached the level of intoxication that warrants a blackout, you may put yourself in positions you normally wouldn’t. You could end up trusting people who could physically or sexually harm you. In the morning, you won’t remember who it was, so it could be difficult to hold anyone responsible.
  • Drinking heavily to the point of blacking out regularly puts you at risk for brain damage in the future. It’s true – regular heavy drinking has been linked to Alzheimer's and other serious and persistent changes in the brain.
  • When you’ve had so much alcohol that you’re blacking out, your chance of injuries increases tenfold. Your inhibitions and judgment are off-kilter at this point of intoxication, which means you’re more likely to drink and drive. Additionally, your reflexes are not operating the way they should be, so you’re more likely to sustain injuries or choke on your food. If you’re with others who are drinking as much as you are, it isn’t very likely that you’ll have someone looking out for you. 

Are Blackouts a Sign of Alcohol Use Disorder?

A blackout or two is not necessarily a sign that you’re managing an alcohol use disorder. However, if you’re noticing blackouts more frequently, or if you’re making dangerous decisions while blacking out and you can’t seem to stop, your safety is in jeopardy and it’s time to seek treatment for alcohol use disorder.

Many people know when it’s time to stop drinking. They start to feel lightheaded or tired and they know they’re becoming inebriated, so they decide to stop. But for others, there is no “signal” that tells them to stop drinking. They continue to drink regularly, even when they’re aware of the mental and physical toll it’s taking on their body. If this reminds you of yourself or someone you love, you’re not alone. More than 14% of people in Delaware participate in binge drinking.

The Dangers of Binge Drinking

Here are some of the most common dangers of binge drinking:

  • It causes lowered inhibitions, which can lead to frequent injuries and overdose
  • It causes flawed decision-making, which can lead to more instances of drunk driving
  • Overdoses caused by binge drinking can lead to organ damage
  • Regular binge drinking can lead to brain damage and “wet brain”
  • Binge drinking and blacking out can harm your relationships, your work life, or your home life

Getting Help For Alcohol Use Disorder 

If you or someone you love is having a hard time controlling how much alcohol they drink (or how often they drink), it might be time to seek treatment. At SUN Behavioral Delaware, we know that every patient’s healing journey is unique. That’s why we offer a large variety of treatment programs for alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox happens in the first 72 hours after your last drink. It’s the process your body goes through to flush the alcohol out of its system. During this time, your body is working hard to rid itself of any toxins left behind. This is when withdrawal symptoms usually start, peak, and subside.

SUN Behavioral Health’s Alcohol Detox happens during this time. You’ll come in and meet with one of our clinicians to be assessed for your needs and to create some goals for yourself. People who choose detox stay in our facility so we can monitor their condition, treat their withdrawal symptoms, and help them heal safely and efficiently.

Inpatient Treatment 

Inpatient treatment provides patients with a stable and supportive environment. Here, they can focus on their recovery while being surrounded by trained and licensed professionals and others who are going through the same thing. The side effects of alcohol use are also treated in this environment.

During inpatient treatment, patients stay on sight at the rehab facility 24/7. They get to experience a wide variety of activities and programs during their day from individual therapy sessions and group sessions to activities such as yoga or hobbies that help rebuild new habits and focus the mind on healing.

Outpatient and PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program) 

If inpatient treatment doesn’t work for your schedule or your lifestyle, outpatient and PHP can help. Outpatient programs can also act as a stepping stone between inpatient and the end of treatment. This type of care usually does not require patients to stay at the facility while being treated. When visiting the facility, patients spend time in customized sessions throughout the day. This can be beneficial for full-time employees seeking treatment because it allows patients to continue to maintain a life outside of treatment.

If you or someone you know is living with an alcohol use disorder, SUN Behavioral Health Delaware can help. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about our available treatment options, call us today at 302-604-5600 so we can help you get your life back.


Frequently Asked Questions

How do I stop blacking out when I drink alcohol?

The best way to avoid a blackout is to stick to CDC’s guidelines when it comes to alcohol consumption. This means 2 glasses per day are okay for men and 1 glass per day is okay for women. Another way to help reduce the risk of blackouts is to make sure you space out your drinking, never drink on an empty stomach, and stop drinking when you start to feel “buzzed” or intoxicated.

What to do if someone blacks out in front of me?

If you notice someone has become intoxicated to the point of blacking out, stick with them. The best thing to do is take them home where they’re safe (or to a hospital if you notice signs of alcohol poisoning). People who are experiencing blackouts often have poor judgment and lowered inhibitions, and alone, they’re likely to make dangerous decisions. Make sure they’re not drinking and driving or going home with someone they don’t know.

When do we call for an emergency for alcohol?

Always call 911 if someone is experiencing an emergency involving alcohol. You can also call poison control at 800-222-1222. 

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