It is no surprise that the over-consumption of alcohol can have unintended, and dangerous, side effects. But what really happens to your brain when you “blackout”? While this might seem like a party norm, this situation can be indicative of a larger issue and possibly the onset of alcoholism. The reason you “blackout” from liquor, beer or wine, is because your brain cannot continue to function as it should. In order to fully understand, we must explain how memories work in the first place.

Memories are the entrapment of all the sensory signals into the brain’s cortex, which are then transcribed and delivered to the hippocampus – the part responsible for memory. Short-term memory is the possession of this memory for 15-30 seconds; anything longer than this is considered long-term memory storage. Short-term memory is sort of like a bucket, that borrows tidbits from your long-term memory.

Difference Between Forgetting and Blacking Out

ALCOHOLISM FACT CHECK: BLACKOUTSForgetfulness and blacking out are also two separate concepts. Forgetfulness is simply just retrieval failure, whereas blacking out is the loss of storage, even in short-term memory stores. Blackouts typically happen when you consume a great deal of alcohol in a short time span. Because you have flooded your body with alcohol, you put a stop sign of sorts between your immediate and short-term memories. This is actually a neurological, chemical disruption in your hippocampus or memory database. Substances like alcohol interfere with your receptors that allow for memories to “move” or become stuck in storage. All interactions briefly make it through short-term memory but do not reach long-term memory potential.

During an alcohol blackout, long-term memory creation is severely restricted and these memories may not form at all.

Severity of a Blackout

The size of your blackout will increase alongside of the amount of alcohol consumed. Lesser amounts of alcohol will cause partial blackouts – otherwise known as fragmentary blackouts or brownouts. Even with a brownout, you may be able to recall parts of the night. Complete blackouts are called “en bloc”, and when this occurs, the person will remember none of the night’s events. You can tell if your friend is in a blackout period because they will not be able to respond appropriately or recall anything that happened even a few minutes ago. An easy trick is to ask about something that occurred 15 minutes ago. If they are on the verge of a blackout, or already are blacked out, they will not be able to recall. If your friend is already blacked out, the best thing you can do is prevent them from harming themselves or others around them. They should stop drinking entirely and start consuming lots of water. There is a strong correlation between alcohol blackouts and alcohol poisoning, so water will help mitigate that risk.

Alcoholism Treatment in California

If you regularly experience blackouts, you are drinking alcohol in excess. At Asana Recovery, we can help those with a reliance on alcohol or alcohol dependency to regain control of their lives. Even if you are not sure if you or a loved one is an alcoholic, receiving a consultation can possibly save your life. If you don’t know when to stop drinking, this could signal a problem which we can help you with. Call us at (949) 438-4504 to get started in one of our renowned treatment programs.