What is an Alcohol Induced Blackout? – Explanation & Consequences

what-is-an-alcohol-induced-blackoutIf you have never experienced an alcohol induced blackout, you may wonder, what is it? More than half of students today experience a blackout at some point in their collegiate career. Most have not taken the time to research what exactly happened or found out why it occurred. In this article, we will delve into the dynamics of a blackout.

What Happened Last Night?

As a person who blacked out nearly every time I drank for 20 years, I can say that blackouts can be taxing. As an alcoholic I had to teach myself to quickly dismiss blackouts as the cost of doing business. If I had let them scare me, I probably would have quit drinking much sooner than I did.

For most people, blacking out because of excessive drinking is, and should be, scary. Usually, the best case scenario is looking over a woman in her bed after a blackout and thinking “she’s cute.”

This is far from the norm, however. At least for this drunk, I usually came to with at least a few angry texts or voice mails about my behavior the night before. More than once, I woke up in jail not knowing the charge!

I don’t know about you, but I consider myself I pretty good guy. What could have happened that I let myself get arrested. One of the best books I have read about experiences relating to blacking out is “Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget.” If you are a blackout drinker, I’m sure you will relate to this true story. It is written by a female, who are more susceptible to blackouts.

I hope for most of you that your experiences have been better than mine. While there have been times when I simply woke up to find the world as it was, too often the experiences were less than ideal. Let’s take a look at what happens to our ability to form memories.

Memory Formation Ability Disappears

When a blackout is induced, our standard ability to form memories is non-existent. Sure, you may remember pieces here and there, but I refer to those instances as “brown outs.” Many people confuse this with passing out. Be assured, you were still walking around, talking to people, and probably causing chaos. You just can’t remember any of it.

Blackouts occur when too many drinks are consumed in too short of time frame. Unfortunately for me, this nearly always occurred within a couple of hours. According to my research, this can begin when your blood alcohol level reaches about .14. Of course, this is different for everybody.

Essentially, your brain receptors do not communicate very well. You may forget about a conversation you just had within a few minutes. (If you have ever talked to a drunk who kept bring up the same topic, or is constantly repeating himself, this is why.)

Additionally, it becomes much more difficult to transfer short-term memories to long-term memories. One experiment where subjects were provided a great number of shots found that people CAN remember something a few minutes later, but often CANNOT hours later when heavily intoxicated.

While blacking out can cause complete loss of hours of memory, a prompt can often cause drinkers to remember parts of an episode. This may trigger certain memories about what occurred during the blackout. Personally, I often had no interest in knowing. Additionally, people usually triggered the most atrocious parts of an episode.

To summarize thus far, we have learned that drinking a lot in a little amount of time causes blackouts. Our brain’s transmitters begin misfiring, which doesn’t allow us to remember much. In fact, our short-term memory is so affected, that we cannot remember the conversation we had a half hour ago if we are truly gone.

As an example, I once had a blood alcohol level of .34, which would cause death in a lot of people, but I was still walking around and somewhat coherent. The cop told me the day after I might need some help. I was only 17 years old at the time. Blacking out should be a deterrent, but us alcoholics have a hard time accepting powerlessness.

Consequences of Blackouts

The real and potential consequences of blacking out are numerous. As an epic blackout drinker, I can tell you they involve incredible hangovers, embarrassing behavior, guilt/shame, willingness to try new drugs, and sometimes criminal charges.

Incredible Hangovers

Hangovers resulting from drinking enough to blackout do not compare with the normal ill feelings you endure after a night of social drinking. Loosely quoting the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, I often felt that sleeping the clock round was the only way to recover. When the opportunity presented itself, that is precisely what I did.

Occasionally, I’d try to treat these hangovers with massive influxes of water. This helps if you do not drink it too fast. You will vomit. Hangovers such as these feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. (Sometimes, I knew I must have fell down several times during the episode, as ribs or various bones would hurt tremendously.)

Continuing to drink alcoholically or binging often makes these hangovers even worse as you get older. As you age, it is no surprise that you don’t bounce back as often. Blackout drinking = Horrific hangovers.

Frequent Embarrasing Behavior

For my families sake, I am not going to detail all my insane escapades relating to my blackout drinking. I will say, however, that they were frequent and appalling. Sometimes they were humorous, but mostly they were nothing to brag about. It is hard to tell people that you lost over $10,000 in Vegas, my entire savings, over the course of three days.

The worst part is that I don’t remember it. I frequently visited casinos just before I blacked out (I remember entering the casino). The worst part of one of those nights was checking my bank account the day after. I also spent money on dumb things constantly while in blackouts.

Without the memories of spending the money and having fun, what good are they? I can tell you that they are not worth the high price of admission. Thankfully, overcoming addiction allows me to put this and other problems resulting from blackout drinking in the past.

Please leave your own personal experiences in the comments section. It matters not if you decide to leave a fake name. Also, your email will not be published. Letting people know they are not alone is important in recovery.

Feelings of Guilt/Shame

Blackout drinking can cause prolific guilt and shame. When we are that drunk, we are often unable to differentiate right from wrong. I’d go as far to say that alcohol in large quantities can make ANY idea, a good idea. This is a carryover from the last section; we are more likely to engage in very risky behavior.

For men, this results in foolishness like jumping out of a third story window and grabbing on to a tree. Luckily, it worked out for the young man that I witnessed doing something this dumb. The feeling of guilt and shame, possibly death, that could have resulted would have filled him with shame.

Waking up having no idea what happened the night before, as alluded to earlier, is a terrible feeling. If you have the gull to ask your friends what you did last night, you often won’t like the answer. For some reason, I always had an eerie feeling when something bad happened after a binge.

Essentially, drinking to excess allows inhibitions to lower to the point where you dismiss your core values and act against them. When this occurs frequently, you end up in the throes of addiction. At some point, you may find that you are no longer the same person you once were. You may not recognize yourself.

Willingness to Try New Drugs

It should be no surprise that when your inhibitions are lowered, engaging in increasingly risky behaviors becomes more commonplace. The first time I ever tried cocaine, I was drunk. This is not to say that I immediately became addicted to cocaine, but it could have led to that.

When you are already feeling “good” someone offering you something that will make you feel great is hard to turn down. I know I would have never tried any drugs if I wasn’t already incredibly intoxicated.

At no point did I think about possibly getting drug tested at my job or the fact that it was illegal. These types of behaviors are part of the recklessness that goes hand in hand with blackout drinking.

Legal Consequences

Imagine you are in a blackout. Your inhibitions are lowered and somebody insults you. As your normal self, you may be able to control yourself and not resort to violence. However, you are so intoxicated that your inhibitions have left you. Your amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for anger and aggression, is compromised. You don’t really think about what you are doing. You simply see a threat, and punch somebody in the face.

Does this sound far-fetched? In most cases of alcohol related violence, both parties are intoxicated. It only gets worse when you are in a blackout. You wake up in jail the next day with a mangled face with no recollection of the events that transpired.

In many cases, you will simply drive your vehicle intoxicated, get pulled over, and have far-reaching consequences. You may lose your license, which can be a huge deal for many. There are many jobs out there that you can no longer get. You will pay big fines, and probably spend a few days in jail. I’ve had several DUI’s and it is at least a 6-month process of fees, meetings with attorneys, requests off from work for “personal” days, etc.

If all these haven’t these consequences haven’t convinced you to slow down or get some help, there is not much I can do for you. I certainly wasn’t convinced until I lost nearly everything, so I’m not one to talk. I hope you have more acceptance of your personal situation than I.

Avoiding Blackouts

As this website is dedicated to helping people achieve sobriety, I recommend abstinence for those who are true addicts and alcoholics. There are many ways to get help and many resources available for those who have a sincere desire to quit. Check out some of these books for starters.

For those who were just looking for information, I hope this article answered your questions. If you are going to continue to drink, simply limit the number of drinks per hour to remain functional. If you find you have a hard time regulating, see the previous paragraph.

As always, please leave your comments below. Share your experience, strength, and hope.

Please share this post if it has helped or will help others close to you.



  1. Hi Ernest!
    You are discussing a very interesting topic. When I was at university I experienced the blackout several times. I was a very good student in the week. However, on the weekends I let myself go with the alcohol. I experienced all the consequences that you mention. The hardest is the guilt and shame. After experience a lot of shame and guilt I took the decision to stop the heavy drinking. Now I don’t drink at parties. I only drink a cup of wine on the weekends.
    Keep the great work!

    • Blackout drinking can be particularly embarrassing. I assume that you had to ask what happened the following day, so you know exactly how it feels. I am concerned that so many people are drinking to the point of blacking out, even if they aren’t alcoholics.

      I admire you not drinking at parties. It certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun. I will say, though, that if everybody is drunk around you while sober, it is enlightening. It really isn’t a pretty picture. I used to start drinking heavily if I arrived late to a party. I wanted to catch up. Now, I have to accept that I’m not really into that scene.

      It is important to ask ourselves these questions about what we really enjoy.

  2. I am so familiar with this topic. I have a very bad past involving alcohol and blackouts. Throughout 2013-2016, I maintained 3 DUI’s and blackouts where I don’t recall nothing from the previous night. From being incarcerated, suspended license for 5 years, probation, and not being able to have a job that affiliates with driving I had to do some real soul searching. I have overcome a lot and is in a much better place. I enjoyed reading this article.

    • Isn’t it amazing how much it takes to deter people like us from drinking. I had my license revoked in Michigan. It will take some serious convincing of that state to remove their hold on my license so that I can get one in another state.

      It seems like alcoholics and addicts make their lives much harder than they have to be. I wish I was scared of blacking out, but I guess a part of me just craves chaos. Life can be so much better sober, which is my goal in creating this site. Education and personal rehabilitation! Thanks for the comment Courtney; I’m sure many can relate! I know I certainly can.

  3. Hi there Ernest,

    WOW! I gotta say reading this was quite an eye opener and I so glad I quit drinking, black outs were the norm for me too!

    The price of booze in highly taxed Malaysia that made me quit at the drop of a hat!.

    I do wish I moved there earlier though!

    • Hey Derek. It is true that most drinkers blackout at least once in their life. However, they usually write it off not considering how dangerous it can be. People drink primarily for the effect, but they can stop when they reach a certain point. This is not true with the alcoholic. The common saying is one is too many and a thousand is never enough.

      It is good to hear you stopped drinking. We accomplish so much more without it.

  4. Hello,

    This is a great read and an eye-opener!

    When I was 21 years old, I think I had a problem with alcohol. Actually, it was more when I was 19 years old. I didn’t think I had a problem until my best friend found me in the middle of my hallway floor with my front door wide open. That was the day I truly knew I had a problem.

    My 21st birthday was the last straw. My family gave me a party, with alcohol and other party favors. After the party, they gave me a hotel room to sleep it off. I woke up still drunk. I was going places not knowing that I was still drunk.

    People noticed that my speech was slurry. I didn’t notice anything! I was so embarrassed to show my face around town after that because some of it I really couldn’t remember. Those blackouts are scary. Especially, when people tell you things that you did.

    It never got to the point of getting arrested. However, my family was hurting in the long run. I also had to change the people that I was parting with. They were not helping or trying to do better. They wanted to keep drinking as I wanted to change. Therefore those friends are no longer. Was that wrong to do?

    This made me think about my past a lot. I have accomplished a lot in my life and drinking was one of them.
    Thank you for sharing this great article.

    • A lot of alcoholics stories begin with “Another story I heard about myself…”  While it can seem humorous at the time, it really is just a deflection so we don’t have to see the real problem.

      I commend you on your ability to stop at such a young age.  I just couldn’t accept that I did not have control over my drinking, which is why it took so long to finally stop and accept help.  I HATE asking for help, but it really is only the real solution when you get as far into your addiction as I.  

      I do not think that letting go of people that are not contributing positively to your life is ever wrong.  We must change people, places, and things when we get sober.  A majority of the time, these people are really just using buddies.  If you remove the drugs and alcohol, you find that you have nothing in common.  This isn’t always the case, but it is the norm.

      I hope you have new friends that love and support you.  Friends should help each other accomplish their goals in my opinion.

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