Black Out Drinking

With the rise in alcohol abuse due to the pandemic, alcohol-induced blackouts or black out drinking has also increased. In fact, drinking until the point of blacking out has become increasingly popular. This alarming trend has become especially widespread among college students and young adults. 

What is a blackout definition in association with alcohol?

Alcohol-induced blackouts are short forms of amnesia. It is the impairment of memory of the events that occurred while intoxicated. During blackouts, a person may continue to be actively engaged in activities and conversations but fails to remember anything that had previously happened. Blackouts create gaps in a person’s memory and place a temporary block in the transference of short-term to long-term memories. Blackouts can occur in anyone who participates in the overconsumption of alcohol.

A man who is experiencing black out drinking is asleep in bed with a green alcohol bottle in hand.

Alcohol is a chemical, mind-altering substance that can disrupt proper brain functions as well as other organ functions. Though a popular substance, excess consumption of alcohol leads to abuse and addiction. Alcohol use disorder is a mental health condition in which a person continues to consume alcohol despite the consistent negative consequences.

Overconsumption of alcohol is notorious for producing measurable memory impairments, even after a few drinks. The more alcohol is consumed, the more risk of memory damage.

Black out drinking primarily affects the frontal lobe known as the hippocampus area of the brain. This part is in charge of performing the most basic tasks including memory formation. Excess alcohol triggers a chemical reaction that disrupts the receptors from carrying signals between neurons that affect the creation of making new memories. During blackouts, the brain continues to produce and process information but is unable to hold and retain the new information that has transpired while the person was drunk. 

How are memories in the brain formed?

This intricate process begins with the initial sensory input into the brain. A memory. The sensory memory is then transferred and encoded into short-term memory storage. There is then a back and forth retrieval and conversion from the short-term to its final destination in long-term memory storage. This process is generally the area where alcohol interferes the most with the transfer of information. Causing fragmented or permanent blackouts.

What are forms of alcohol-induced blackouts?

There are two main types of black out drinking. Fragmentary blackouts are defined as having broken and separated memories that include missing various periods of time. This partial blocking of memories seems to be the most common type of alcohol-induced blackout. They are also known as grayouts or brownouts.

En block blackouts can also be associated with a short-term form of complete amnesia. This blackout can span over hours where memories of events are not formed and the person will not be able to recall anything they said or did while intoxicated. This is a result of the brain’s failure to transfer short-term memory to long-term memory storage.

Is blacking out and passing out the same thing?

Blacking out and passing out is not the same. Passing out is when you physically fall asleep or lose consciousness from drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. When a person experiences a blackout, they are awake, can go on carrying on normal conversations and could appear either drunk or barely intoxicated. Despite being fully conscious, people who have alcohol-induced blackouts are unable to recall any memories that happened during their time drinking.

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How do alcohol blackouts happen and what are some of the side effects?

Black out drinking can occur when a person has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.14 or higher. This is almost twice the legal limit for alcohol consumption. Contrary to popular belief, blackouts are caused by how quickly alcohol enters the bloodstream and not necessarily by how much alcohol is consumed. For example, someone who takes three shots of alcohol in a row is more likely to experience a blackout compared to someone who takes three shots of alcohol over a longer period of time.

Blackouts can also occur at lower alcohol content levels in people who drink while also taking other substances. Mind-altering substances such as Valium and other types of benzos combined with alcohol can cause blackouts producing severe memory impairments. Mixing alcohol with any other type of substance often leads to blackouts because alcohol is the primary factor that enhances the effects of the other drugs. This is also known as polysubstance use.

Alcohol-induced blackouts are commonly experienced among young people because they are more likely to engage in binge drinking behaviors. According to the CDC, binge drinking is defined as consuming five drinks or more for men, and 4 drinks or more for women.

Binge drinking activities such as pre-gaming, pre-partying or drinking on an empty stomach, all produce higher risks of alcohol blackouts. Generally, young people have less experience with drinking and often overestimate how much they can actually handle. While their brains are still maturing, excessive alcohol can delay and hinder proper functions of normal brain development. Studies have shown that about 50% of college students reported experiencing an alcohol-induced blackout.

During blackouts, a person could attempt to engage in risky and dangerous behaviors due to their brain not functioning properly. Blackouts produce a higher risk of a person driving while intoxicated, having non-consensual sex or engaging in acts of violence.

Could a new trend of binge drinking called BORG be contributing to the rise in blackout drinking?

BORG stands for blackout rage gallon. It is an alcoholic drink made up of a combination of water, vodka, caffeinated flavor boosters and electrolytes all mixed into a one gallon jug. This trend started on TikTok and has been sweeping across college campuses all over America. The craze promises a “hangover free drinking experience” and usually takes place during day drinking events such as day long parties or tailgates.

Participants of the binge drinking trend claim it’s a form of harm reduction and is a safer way to drink. This is because it gives the user complete control over how much alcohol you are adding to the drink mixture. However, researchers and experts say adding any amount of caffeine will undo the positive effects of added water to your drink mixture. And no matter how much electrolytes are added, it won’t cancel out the dangers and effects that are associated with alcohol. Experts are worried that this new trend among the younger generation could lead to a significant increase in black out drinking which then leads to abuse and addiction.

Reach out to Hotel California by the Sea

We specialize in treating addiction and other co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD. Our Admissions specialists are available to walk you through the best options for treating your addiction.

Asking about blackouts and alcohol consumption is a simple yet important factor in screening for the risk of alcohol-related issues in young people. Blackout drinking isn’t necessarily a sign of AUD. But it could help start a conversation about their relationship with alcohol and drinking habits. This can help them understand the risks of an alcohol blackout, meaning they will be able to prevent it from happening. Having these important discussions are one of the best methods of prevention.

At Hotel California by the Sea, we treat young adults who suffer from alcohol addiction. The drug and alcohol treatment program offers uniquely catered programs that are age specific to younger clients, who face different challenges when it comes to treatment and recovery. Rigorous intensive treatments such as CBT and group therapy provide a safe and understanding space for clients to unpack and address their issues. In addition to a holistic treatment plan, clients have a greater chance of long-term abstinence from alcohol and alcohol induced black out drinking.