Alcohol Blackouts: What Happens To Your Brain

Blackouts From Alcohol are Risky Business 

Blacking out from alcohol happens when irresponsibility or biology takes hold due to the overconsumption of alcohol. Let’s set the scene: It’s the weekend. The work is done, checks are cashed, and it’s finally time to go out and enjoy the evening with a few friends. The night is young, and everyone is dressed to be noticed. The rendezvous point is a little pub down the street, and you think, “why not.” It can be fun now and then to fiddle with a little bit of grandpa’s cough syrup. We’re speaking, of course, in regards to hooch, the sauce, liquid bread, the devil’s juice, most commonly known as booze or alcohol. It’s that humbling liquid courage we crave so severely that convinces us that it will make all of our problems (seemingly) disappear for however temporarily that is.

But it’s fun for many people to dabble a little bit, every now and then, with such an elixir… right? I mean, I’m sure that’s the idea anyway. Drink a little bit here and there to unload the stress or anxiety caused by life’s little battles. Or, maybe when the time for a celebration with a few bottles of champagne calls after getting that big promotion. It seems so simple and part of having a social life when you put it like that. But now, let’s throw in those of us who are prone to the alcoholic mindset. With that extra factor in the mix, now it seems you have yourself a different solution to end that equation. Now we’re talking about someone that will do anything to fill a void. Those of us that will drink alcohol as much as we need to have fun and give us that feeling of being whole and not lost in this ever-changing world we were cast into. Addicts and alcoholics generally love to do everything in excess. So, unsurprisingly, the taste and effects of alcohol spark something inside of us, and we choose to drink more than your average fellow. This is when it becomes a problem, and blackouts are usually one of the first signs of an addiction. 

Blackouts Can Leave You Blindsided

Often, people who have been binge drinking alcohol or had gone out for a night on the town with friends ended up getting blindsided by these alcohol blackouts. Many of these people who have experienced an alcohol blackout report that they have found themselves waking up in a random place that is not their bed, or even at someone else’s home. Items might be missing from their purses or pockets. Sometimes there are stains on their clothing, from food or other substances consumed the night before. Many times there are bumps and bruises with no reasonable explanation. 

Even worse, people are more susceptible to getting into a vehicle with someone equally as intoxicated or even sexually assaulted.

Not a pretty thought – I know. Some have even found themselves coming back to reality, already caught up in a violent situation where they could not fend for themselves. Despite that being a bit graphic, the physical aspect, what’s going on upstairs in the brain is usually pretty detrimental to our wellbeing. For starters, I know this will be a shock for some folks, but alcohol kills. Yeah, I said it. It enjoys shutting organs down that try to play the game and fight off negative effects that the alcohol we’ve consumed is having on our bodies. This takeover interrupts the bodily functions that process alcohol. Kidneys, liver, the heart, the brain and more, at some point, will start to succumb to the powers that be. This will inevitably take a toll on the body in a permanent, and typically an irreversible way, and that’s when it kills. 

woman-passed-out-drunk

Does Everyone Blackout from Alcohol?

Everyone has a different tolerance for how much alcohol they can consume before intoxication goes to the next level and results in an alcohol blackout. Having one or two alcoholic cocktails with some friends on a full stomach over a few hours at the holiday party seems harmless. Those with an alcoholic mindset find themselves falling into this hole most often. Due to having alcoholism and addiction buried in their DNA, this can be a difficult cycle to overcome. Blacking out from alcohol can be not only embarrassing but very dangerous as well. 

Some people, in fact, can function quite well when they have reached the point where their memory fails them from an overindulgence of alcohol. Those that are enjoying their time right along with them, may not even notice that the fun has been taken too far, until it is too late. Though they are seemingly having a great time like everyone else at the gathering or pub, their overindulgence of alcohol has led them down a dangerous road. An alcohol blackout happens when drinking in excess has reached a point where the part of the brain that is responsible for sensory input cannot reach the memory station of the brain. Regardless of the many factors that can lead to alcohol blackouts, most people who have ever gone out to some festivity or another have experienced one of these neurological shutdowns.

What is a Blackout?

In a general sense of words, a blackout from alcohol happens when we lose time by disappearing from our conscious-minded self. The awareness we have over our thoughts and actions are placed on an autopilot setting, while the body tries desperately to sort out what is wrong and how to fix itself. There are many aspects of our brains that are affected when excessive drinking takes place. The reality is that the alcohol in our system had created a roadblock hindering our best judgment, as well as when to initiate our fight or flight response to the stimuli around us. 

Effects on the Brain Causing Blackouts from Alcohol

Usually, blackouts are due to how alcohol interacts with the receptors in our brains. By blocking specific receptors during intoxication, alcohol disrupts the critical pathways that allow for communication between different parts of the mind. Explicitly referring to the gland in the brain’s system, called the hippocampus, which is held responsible for motivation, learning ability, memory, and emotion. In order for us to function as ourselves, all pathways must remain open and uninterrupted. 

The specific neurons beings transmitted in the brain, to and from the hippocampus, help create a sequence of vital patterns known as LTP, which stands for “long-term potentiation.” LTP is a series of synapses that allow us to develop and store memories. When a person is experiencing an alcohol blackout, their brain loses the ability to learn and store information from the environment around them properly. This leads to what seems like lost or unaccounted for time. But in reality, due to the excessive intake of alcohol, the information is being blocked from following through the intended brain pathways, and never makes it to the destination where the processing and recording of experiences take place. 

The receptors being blocked help to prevent the brain from creating new memories of any sort. This is why when we finally sober up, as the alcohol is processed out of our system, we have no recollection of how much time has passed or what we’re were doing within that time frame. It usually becomes a blacked out “mystery,” unless somebody is there to inform us of the potentially tragic and at times, embarrassing events, which surely, transpired.

Alcohol Blackouts Interrupt the Chain of the Brain

Just like every other part of the body, the brain has a system in place to classify memories into categories. We’ve all heard of short term and long term memory. But, there is a process that has to happen to get from one to the other, and this is where alcohol blackouts come into play. These three stages are:

  • Sensory memory 
  • Short–term memory 
  • Long–term storage

Sensory Memory

The first, sensory memory, is simply the acknowledgment of any stimulus and lasts only a few seconds. For example, sensory memory is what you experience when you reach for your alcoholic drink and notice that the glass is cold. You realize that the glass is cold, but there is very little importance that has to go along with that, and that memory may be discarded. 

Short Term Memories

Short term memories have options and last from just a few seconds to minutes. They also have the chance to develop further into long term memories. If a sensory memory is deemed important enough by your brain for your own wellbeing, then the information gathered will be placed forward where you will be more aware of the sensation for a longer period of time. Your brain will subconsciously take into consideration how valuable this information will be for you in the long run. If the glass you touched is cold and causes no harm, it will suppress the importance and never become more than a short term memory. However, if the glass you touched was scalding hot, you would remain more conscious of the thought that you must be more careful when you touch it. If you never have to touch this hot mug again, then the memory is a fleeting one, and can then be discarded. 

Long Term Memory

Long term memory is when an experience or sensation becomes more natural. It becomes a habit, a skill that is easily maneuvered, or an event that can be recalled on command. Using a hot mug again as an example, long term memory would suggest that a person, knowing that the cup would be hot due to the memory of the sensation, would take precautionary measures here on out, to avoid the discomfort. 

This series of thought is known as the “modal model” and is the most general in its ability to encapsulate all other methods within its understanding. When a person is experiencing a blackout from alcohol, this system is completely interrupted and typically cannot move further than sensory memory; however, at times, short term memories may be retained. 

Alcohol Blackouts and Bad Decisions

When a person gets to the point of blacking out from alcohol, they are usually extremely intoxicated. A lot of the time, alcohol blackouts and alcohol poisoning will coincide with each other. A person will begin to lose all cognitive and rational thought as they habitually down more of the alcoholic beverage. Blacking out can be extremely dangerous due to impaired motor function and horrible judgment and bad decisions. Making irrational decisions or having a more charged emotional response to something said, done, or seen, goes along with alcohol consumption in general. However, when a person is completely blacked out and still experiences these heightened or unnecessary compulsions, the brain is not able to work appropriately to restore rational though, and things can get seriously out of hand and seriously quick. 

But do not be fooled, blacking out is not something that only happens to alcoholics. Yes, a person that has an alcohol addiction will typically overindulge in drinking and are more prone to going through it. But, this can happen to anybody with a low tolerance or even just a knack and desire for binge drinking.

Knowing How to Prevent Blacking Out From Alcohol

The idea behind alcohol blackouts isn’t so much about how much alcohol was consumed, but more so about how quickly it was ingested. Essentially, your brain and the receptors are becoming flooded and overwhelmed from the alcohol going into your bloodstream. Then what happens is the liver and kidneys aren’t able to process the chemical as quickly as the body would like. So then, the brain, being hindered from functioning at an optimum level, kind of just drowns itself for a little bit. The hippocampus, as mentioned earlier, gets blocked from receiving the messages needed for form memory and just basically shuts down and stops processing things at full capacity. Hopefully, most who are reading this can understand why this is and can be so detrimental to the brain over the course of time.  

Studies have shown over and over, that the awful decisions individuals are more prone to making in correlation to being blackout drunk, to the point of being inebriated, far exceeds that of somebody sober from alcohol, or even more sobered up. The assessments made in such a state of intoxication are usually very off-kilter, or unlike that person to act out on the “poor choice” side of things. 

Research has shown that individuals are more likely to fight, drive drunk, engage in regrettable sexual conduct, or take part in riskier and life-threatening dares, than if they were at a point of complete consciousness. You’re there, but you’re not there, or at least your brain isn’t all there with you. At the end of the day, pounding down the booze should just be a no-no, and should be respected and done responsibly. Getting the right alcohol treatment to take back your life and be free of this circle of behavior can change every part of your life. 

Some people can drink a little alcohol here and there, and then some of us can’t. It all boils down to what effect it is you’re chasing from drinking alcohol. However, no one has ever been very proud of making a fool of themselves while blacked out on alcohol, especially when it has become a matter of life, dignity, or death. Blacking out from alcohol use or addiction is not the only way to have a social life, and leaving alcohol in the dust doesn’t mean you have to deflate your social life all together either. Staying on course with a rehab plan and learning how and when to manage your triggers can lead to a more exciting experience overall. The best part of gaining sobriety after suffering from blackouts from alcohol… you will remember them!

Looking For Clarity – How to Gain Freedom From Alcohol

Blacking out and continuously letting alcohol take advantage of you can do damage to anyone’s ego. Addiction and alcoholism don’t give you a choice. They force you to take the facts as they come. There is no pause button like in a movie; this is the reality. If you or a loved one has been struggling with getting a firm grasp on sobriety and need help with detoxification or addiction, please call 1-877-978-3125. Our teams of specialists at Coastal Detox are readily waiting to guide you as you make a plan for your memorable rehabilitation. Ensure the journey of your life is moving in a comfortable direction that you can proudly stand behind.

References:

https://www.news-medical.net/health/Hippocampus-Functions.aspx

https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/186-196.htm

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