Tip 4:          Blackouts

Whenever my friend drinks, she blackouts. Why?

Joe H.,  University of Southern California, Freshman

What is a blackout?  Sometimes I drink and remember everything, other times I forget things and other times I kinda remember stuff?

Laura L.,   Quinnipiac College, Frosh

What causes blackouts?  Sometimes I get them and other times I don’t.

Lonnie W.,   Wentworth Institute, Senior

The term “passing out” is often confused with “blacking out” although they are distinctly different. “Passing out” usually refers to either falling asleep from excessive drinking or literally drinking oneself unconscious.  A “black out” refers to a state of consciousness during which memories fail to form. Blacking out impairs the ability to form new memories while intoxicated, but does not erase memories that were formed prior to becoming intoxicated.  The drinker may or may not appear intoxicated during a blackout.  The best definition of a blackout is “alcohol induced amnesia.” 


There are two types of blackouts Laura - you seem to be experiencing both types.  The en bloc blackout prevents the drinker from recalling any details whatsoever from events that occurred while intoxicated, despite all efforts by the drinker to remember.  Interestingly, even in the midst of an en bloc blackout, people appear able to keep information active in short-term memory for at least a few seconds.  As a result, they can often carry on conversations, drive automobiles, and engage in other complicated behaviors.  But, information about these events is not transferred into long-term memory.  The second type of blackout, the fragmentary blackout, involves only a partial impairment of memory formation.  Laura, this is what you describe as “kinda remember stuff.”


The primary cause of blackouts is drinking too much too quickly resulting in a quick rise in Blood Alcohol Level.  Drinking on an empty stomach also contributes. Blackouts are extremely dangerous since the drinker is often extremely impaired and at great risk of doing harm to her/himself or others.  However, you do not need to be “totally wasted” to experience a blackout.  Impairment causes a blackout and the greater the impairment the more likely a blackout will occur. 


Joe, as you have noticed, some people are more prone to experiencing blackouts.  Since there seems to be a genetic component to the likelihood of experiencing blackouts, your friend may have inherited her increased risk for blackouts.


A blackout is a sign that a serious problem is developing if not already present. Blackouts are always cause for concern and should compel you to closely examine your drinking habits.