How Blackouts Affect the Brain

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that slows brain activity. The effects of intoxication are linked to this function. After a drink or two a person may feel more relaxed, conversational and humorous, as the part of their brain that manages anxiety, self-control and personal judgment is slowed down. Continued drinking slows motor skills and coordination. If enough of a central nervous depressant is consumed, the part of the brain that tells the heart to beat and the lungs to breathe may slow to the point of death.

One of the most commonly reported symptoms of intoxication is having no memory of experiences that happened during a time of drinking. This type of memory loss is called a blackout and is the result of the slowing of activity in the hippocampus. If the individual can remember the events after being reminded by someone who was there, it is called a brownout. Both blackouts and brownouts are the result of damage to the brain caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

Risks Associated with Blackouts

According to the National Institute of Health over half of college students who drink have blacked out at least once. This means that after a night of drinking they could not remember certain things they had done even when reminded. Some of the things these college students reported having done while drunk include the following:

  • Vandalism
  • Unprotected sex
  • Driving

Because drinking reduces inhibitions and judgment, it is common for people to report having done things while they were drunk that they never would have considered doing while sober. As these behaviors can range from relatively harmless things like confessing feelings of attraction to a classmate to life-altering tragedies such as rape, suicide, drug overdoses, drunk driving or violence, blackouts are serious and extremely dangerous events. Blackouts can become more and more extensive and the damage to the brain more significant with each experience. Several permanent brain diseases can be caused by excessive drinking.

Blackouts and Alcohol Dependency

Binge drinking, which is defined as consumption of alcohol with the intention of becoming drunk, greatly accelerates the process of alcohol dependency. It is possible to drink too much and become an alcoholic without ever blacking out. Blackouts should be seen as a warning sign that a drinker has lost control and is at a high risk for becoming addicted, if they aren’t already. Different people will require different quantities of alcohol before blacking out, and women are more susceptible than men, as they generally have a lower tolerance for alcohol.

Alcohol Dependency Answers

If you have experienced blackouts, you should carefully consider your relationship with alcohol. If you have decided to quit drinking in the past but have been unable to, or if you have any questions about alcohol addiction, blackouts, brain damage or recovery, please call our toll-free helpline.