The term “blacking out” is thrown around from college parties to Vegas clubs. Most heavy drinkers have experienced some sort of this in their lifetime, but at the same time no very little about what a black out ACTUALLY is and why it happens.
If you’ve experienced a black out in your lifetime, chances are it will happen again. Why? Because the more times you black out, the more likely it is to happen again. So, let’s break it down.
What is a blackout?
An alcohol induced blackout usually occurs when the alcohol in your bloodstream spikes too high, too rapidly. When your brain is exposed to this rapid increase, it interferes with the receptors in the hippocampus (part of the brain needed for memory formation) that transmit glutamate (aka that little ole compound that carries signals between neurons). When the neurons can’t communicate with each other properly, it disrupts long-term potentiation (aka that little ole process needed for learning and memory).
In the simplest of terms, when too much alcohol is consumed the brain temporarily loses the ability to create new memories. When a person is experiencing a blackout, they may still be able to function and interact, they just won’t be able to create memories of it.
What about browning out / greying out?
You may have heard some of your friends say, “I didn’t blackout, but I think I browned out.” In turn, you may be wondering if this is true. The answer? Yes and no. This is still blacking out (browning out is not a real term) but there are two different types of black outs. If someone is referring to browning out, they’re experiencing a “fragmentary” black out. This usually means they lose memory for shorter periods of time and often can recall the memory if someone reminds them.
On the other hand, there is “en bloc” black outs, which is what most people just associate as a normal black out. The person experiences memory loss for longer periods of time. People experiencing an “en bloc” blackout, most likely won’t be able to recover memories even if someone tells them.
Can you prevent blackouts?
Well the easiest answer is to avoid drinking (DUH!). However, this can be unrealistic for a lot of people. A few additional ways you can prevent blacking out are:
- Eat a Full Meal Before Drinking – Drinking on an empty stomach causes your blood alcohol content (BAC) to rise more quickly. The dramatic spike in your BAC is what causes blackouts.
- Slow Down Your Drinking Speed – Blackouts have a lot more to do with how quickly you consume alcohol vs the overall amount you drink. For example, if you have 4 beers in 4 hours, there is a very little chance you’ll experience a blackout. If you have 4 beers and 4 shots in a hour, the risk is increased.
- Hydrate – Drink water! We mean this in two ways; drink water before going out and drink water while you’re out. If you drink water before starting to drink, you will be less thirsty and in turn drink slower. If you alternate your alcoholic beverages with water while you’re out, you will have more control over your BAC.
- Don’t Drink on Medication – A lot of medications advise you not to drink alcohol when taking them. How serious is this? Well, kind of serious! To start, it’s not good for your liver but also many medications can increase your chances of blacking out.