Why Do I Blackout When I Drink?

Have you ever woken up after a night of drinking and realized you can’t remember what happened? You’re not alone. Many people experience blackouts when they drink, leading to confusion and concern about their drinking habits. Understanding why blackouts happen can help you take control of your drinking and avoid potentially dangerous situations. At 12 South Recovery, we are committed to helping individuals in Orange County understand and overcome the effects of alcohol abuse.

This blog will explore why blackouts occur, their risks, and how to prevent them. If you need support, don’t hesitate to contact our team.

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What is an Alcohol-Induced Blackout?

An alcohol-induced blackout is a gap in memory caused by excessive alcohol consumption. When you drink heavily, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises rapidly, disrupting the hippocampus’s ability to form new memories. This part of the brain is crucial for creating long-term memories; when it’s impaired, you experience a blackout.

There are two types of blackouts:

  1. Fragmentary Blackouts: Also known as “brownouts,” these are partial memory losses in which one can remember certain events when prompted. Fragmentary blackouts are characterized by intermittent memory gaps. Individuals may initially be unable to recall certain events but can often remember them later when given specific cues or reminders. These blackouts may lead to confusion and uncertainty about the sequence of events.
  2. En Bloc Blackouts: These are complete memory losses for a period, with no ability to recall events even with cues. During an en bloc blackout, individuals are unable to form new memories for several hours. Unlike fragmentary blackouts, no amount of prompting or reminding can help them recall what happened during the blackout period. This type of blackout can be particularly alarming and dangerous, as individuals might engage in risky behaviors without any recollection.

Why Do Blackouts Happen?

Alcohol’s Impact on the Brain

When you consume alcohol, it affects the brain’s communication pathways, particularly those involved in memory formation. Alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant, slowing down brain function and impairing cognitive processes.

Inhibition of Glutamate: Alcohol inhibits glutamate, a neurotransmitter essential for learning and memory. This inhibition prevents the brain from encoding new memories, leading to blackouts.

Enhancement of GABA: Alcohol enhances the effects of GABA, another neurotransmitter that produces calming effects. This can make you feel relaxed and less inhibited, but it also contributes to memory loss.

BAC and Blackouts

The likelihood of experiencing a blackout increases with the rate of alcohol consumption. Rapidly drinking large amounts of alcohol raises BAC quickly, overwhelming the brain’s ability to process and store information. Factors influencing BAC include:

  • Amount of Alcohol: More alcohol leads to higher BAC.
  • Drinking Speed: Drinking quickly raises BAC faster.
  • Body Weight and Composition: Smaller individuals and those with less body fat reach higher BAC levels more quickly.
  • Gender: Women generally have higher BAC levels than men after consuming the same amount of alcohol due to differences in body composition and metabolism.

Risks and Consequences of Blackouts

Blackouts are not just harmless memory lapses; they can lead to serious consequences, including:

  1. Risky Behavior: During a blackout, you may engage in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex, driving under the influence, or getting into physical altercations. These actions can have severe, long-term repercussions.
  2. Injury: Without memory, you might not recall how you got injured or even hurt. Falls, accidents, and violence are common during blackouts.
  3. Legal Issues: Blackouts can result in legal problems, including arrests for disorderly conduct, DUI, or other criminal activities you might engage in without being fully aware.
  4. Relationship Strain: Repeated blackouts can strain relationships with family and friends who may be concerned about your behavior and safety.

How to Prevent Blackouts

Preventing blackouts involves managing your drinking habits and understanding your limits. Here are some strategies to help you avoid blackouts:

Drink Slowly

Pace yourself by drinking slowly and sipping your drinks. This helps prevent your BAC from rising too quickly. Try alternating alcoholic drinks with water or non-alcoholic beverages to stay hydrated and maintain control over your alcohol intake.

Eat Before and While Drinking

Eating before and during drinking can slow the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream. Foods high in protein and fat are particularly effective at slowing down alcohol absorption.

Know Your Limits

Understanding your personal limits and sticking to them is crucial. Pay attention to how your body responds to alcohol and avoid binge drinking. Setting a limit on the number of drinks you consume can help you stay within a safe range.

Avoid Drinking Games and Shots

Drinking games and shots often encourage rapid consumption of large amounts of alcohol, leading to a higher risk of blackouts. Opt for drinks that you can sip slowly and enjoy over a longer period.

Stay with Trusted Friends

Having a trusted friend or group with you when you drink can help you stay safe and avoid risky behaviors. Friends can also intervene if they notice you drinking too much or engaging in dangerous activities.

Contact Our Team

Blackouts are a serious consequence of excessive alcohol consumption that can lead to dangerous and regrettable situations. By understanding why blackouts happen and taking steps to prevent them, you can make safer choices when drinking.

At 12 South Recovery, we are dedicated to helping individuals in Orange County overcome alcohol-related challenges. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use and experiencing blackouts, contact our team for support and guidance. Share this blog post to spread awareness and encourage safe drinking habits.


At 12 South Recovery, we aim to help restore balance to every area of life – treating the mind, body and spirit so our clients are able to find lasting recovery from addiction and other co-occurring disorders. Our unique Treatment Programs aim to address both addiction and the underlying causes.

Contact 12 South Recovery at 866-839-6876 today.

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