Alcohol, Drunkenness, & Blacking Out: Why Do People Do It, and How Can They Stop

Alcohol, though a legal substance and commonly consumed by a great majority of individuals, is technically a poison for the body and brain. It is a disinhibiting substance which can be used as disinfectant. Now imagine drinking said disinfectant; seems almost preposterous right? Regardless of its poisonous nature, the widespread socialization of alcohol has made it an integral part of many cultures. Most people don’t have an issue with alcohol abuse, though it is debatable whether or not the use of alcohol in any amount is recommended for the average person. In the short term, drinking and experiencing the levels of drunkenness might not appear to be that detrimental. But when one starts to drink more and blackouts occur more frequently, they might start to wonder how to stop blacking out when drinking.

A man is sitting down holding a glass cup of alcohol and is contemplating his drunkenness, blacking out, why he does it and how he can stop.

In the long-term, the abuse of alcohol can eventually cause severe and irreversible brain damage, heart problems, cancer, liver disease, stroke, and death. (The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). Not all individuals who drink alcohol in larger quantities will experience the long-term effects of drinking, but many of them will at some point in their lives experience a blackout. So why do people blackout when drinking? And are there tips on how to stop blacking out when drinking?

What is a Blackout?

What exactly is a blackout, and why do people blackout when drinking even if they feel fine after the first couple drinks? We’ve all probably witnessed or firsthand experienced the levels of drunkenness, but some have never experienced a blackout. Stumbling, slurring of words, dizziness, and gaps in memory: these are all signs of a blackout. A black out is defined as “a temporary loss of memory during a period of alcohol intoxication”, usually a significant amount of alcohol.

The average person’s tolerance levels to alcohol vary widely, so there is no specific statistical amount of alcohol that causes a blackout. There are some who can pass through the different levels of drunkenness but not fall into a blackout, while others only have to drink a little in a small amount of time to experience a blackout.

Blacking out when drinking is often conflated with passing out, which is simply the loss of consciousness due to intoxication. One can remember the difference easily; a passed-out person is lying down, seemingly asleep, unbothered and not busy. A person in a black out is very much busy and is relatively indiscernible from another drunk person who isn’t experiencing lapses in memory. So why do people blackout when drinking while others pass out? As described on the American Addiction Centers website, ‘“passing out,” also called syncope… is a temporary loss of consciousness where a person no longer displays voluntary behaviors.

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However, an alcohol-related blackout involves losing your memory while you’re still awake and conscious; you can be moving around, interacting with others, and seem fine to those around you. Blackouts are caused by drinking high quantities of alcohol, which leads to an impairment in the way your brain transfers memories from short- to long-term memory.” There are less severe blackouts, or “brown outs”, characterized by short memory lapses and some interspersed recollection of events, whereas a full-blown blackout is characterized by full amnesia, or complete inability to recall events during the blackout period.

So, despite knowing how a blackout can happen, why do people blackout when drinking still? People blackout when drinking because they have a high BAC, or Blood Alcohol Content. Blackouts occur much faster and last longer.

Levels of Drunkenness

For many casual drinkers, they never have to worry about the levels of drunkenness; they stop after a few drinks. But there are those who cannot help but drink to the point where they appear to be a different person. Generally speaking, ingesting large amounts of alcohol is not a great idea. Even if you don’t get alcohol poisoning, you are still at risk of other dangers when drinking large amounts, especially in a blackout.

But before you experience severe impairment, one passes through other levels of drunkenness. The initial feeling one might have from a glass of wine or a beer is minimal: perhaps a warm feeling in the body, and even a slight disinhibition, but nothing significant. A few drinks and the disinhibited feeling expands from your stomach out all the way into your fingers and toes. You might feel more social than you would normally feel, friendly and honest. (No two people react to alcohol the same way, but these are general ideas).

A few more drinks and the person graduates from tipsy or buzzed to drunk. Slurred speech, trouble walking or standing up straight, and other expressions of lowered inhibitions often characterize this drunken state. The drunken person may feel sick, with nausea and vomiting being a common symptom of excess of alcohol in the body. After this point, the drinker (if they continue drinking) may become sicker, and even less in control of their faculties. Blacking out, the most dangerous state to be in out of the levels of drunkenness, may lead to poor decision-making, or physically endangering situations. So why do people blackout when drinking? It’s because they continue to rapidly drink in lieu of the many signs of falling into the dangerous levels of drunkenness.

How To Stop Blacking Out

After waking up from a blackout and having to answer to situations you don’t remember, you might be wondering how to stop blacking out when drinking. There are many tips on how to stop blacking out when drinking. The first and most important thing to do when trying to prevent blackout is finding your limit and sticking to it. Knowing your personal limitations around alcohol consumption, you can enter drinking situations with more confidence.

No one is obligated to drink more than their own personal capacity; staying within a drink limit is a great tip on how to stop blacking out when drinking. Of course, if you find you cannot stop drinking and you often blackout when you do drink, even though you don’t want to, then you may have another problem. Luckily, there is a solution and hope for these cases. The statistics do vary, but generally speaking about 5 percent of the U.S. population struggles with an alcohol use disorder, though there is some evidence indicating that the number is on the rise. According to an article in the Washington Post referencing a recent study conducted by JAMA Psychiatry,

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“One in eight American adults, or 12.7 percent of the U.S. population, now meets diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder, according to the study”. Despite knowing why people blackout when drinking, many still have a problem not blacking out constantly. If you are constantly wondering how to stop blacking out when drinking, you’re not alone. There is help.