Although many people enjoy drinking in moderation—defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks for men—excessive drinking can have serious consequences. Binge drinking is common in the U.S with one in six adults consuming an average of eight drinks per binge episode. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 92% of adults who drink in excess have reported a binge drinking episode in the past 30 days.

For most people, binge drinking leads to blackout. However, heavy drinking alone doesn’t cause blackouts, rather rapid consumption of alcohol within a short time precedes a blackout. Thus, the main factor precipitating blackouts is a rapid rise in blood alcohol content, which can be exacerbated both by drinking on an empty stomach or dehydration. Research also shows that a person who has experienced one alcohol blackout is more likely to have blackouts in the future. Using drugs, both illicit and prescription, while consuming alcohol also increases the chances of blackout.

So, what’s the big deal with alcohol blackouts? Let’s take a closer look at what happens when you blackout and what the long-term effects of excessive alcohol consumption are. We will also cover some of the key warning signs associated with alcohol blackout, so you can be fully aware of symptoms and prepared to prevent a full alcohol blackout in the future.

What Happens When You Blackout?

Alcohol often makes us feel spontaneous, uninhibited and euphoric. But as blood alcohol content increases, coordination and judgment decrease. Studies show alcohol also affects a person’s cognitive function, including the way the brain makes memories. The brain’s ability to create long-term memories isn’t affected as much by overall blood alcohol content as by the rapid rise in alcohol levels. Research also shows binge drinking is more likely to cause amnesia, memory loss and blackouts than slow-paced, heavy drinking.

Blackouts are characterized by the inability to make memories, although people are still conscious when blacked out. They can still walk, talk and perform most ordinary functions, although drunkenly. The brain’s sensory and short-term memory functions continue to work. However, because the brain’s ability to form long-term memories is compromised, people who are blacked out can’t remember anything that happened over a specific period of time.

The long-term effects of blackouts are still unknown, although heavy alcohol use has been shown to contribute to a shrinkage of the brain’s hemispheres, which causes memory loss. Several other studies have linked heavy alcohol use to both learning and memory inhibition. It’s still unclear as to whether blackouts cause more extensive and serious long-term damage, but the risks associated with heavy alcohol use, as well as uninhibited behaviors while blacked out, can have detrimental long-term effects.

5 Alcohol Blackout Warning Signs

For those who are blackout drunk, the symptoms may be very similar to being drunk. They may be overly friendly or carefree, exhibit slurred speech and be unable to walk straight. However, those who are blackout drunk often exhibit the following 5 serious warning signs:

  • Mental confusion
  • Difficulty maintaining consciousness
  • Difficulty understanding normal speech
  • Inability to remember recent events
  • Irregular breathing or slowed breathing

Individuals who are blacked out have difficulty keeping their train of thought and often show compromised judgment. Most will continue to consume alcohol, not remembering how many drinks they’ve already had. Because they are still conscious, they are also more likely to engage in risky behaviors—driving cars, getting into fights, abusing drugs, or having unprotected sex. The negative consequences for those who regularly blackout from drinking are often more acute than for those who pass out when drunk.

Preventing Blackouts

The best way to avoid blacking out is to limit the number of drinks consumed. However, if you plan to drink heavily, pacing your consumption will help prevent blood alcohol levels from rising too quickly. A standard rule of thumb is to consume only one drink per hour and to drink a glass of water for each alcoholic beverage. Eating food before and during drinking can also slow alcohol absorption. If you’re drinking with friends, you can also ask a sober friend or designated driver to cut you off after a certain number of drinks.

It’s important to be aware of the above alcohol blackout warning signs. If you or someone you know is having difficulty concentrating, keeping track of conversations, or remembering recent events, you or they may be getting close to blacking out. In this case, it’s important to stop drinking and to get home safely. Be aware of further signs of alcohol poisoning, which include vomiting, difficulty breathing and clammy skin. If you detect these symptoms, you should get emergency help immediately. Fore more information on treatment for alcohol abuse, contact Blu by the Sea in Destin, Florida.