Blacking Out From Drinking – What Happened there?

After 2 decades of drinking, I tended to accept certain aspects of my life as ‘that is just the way it is’. 

Blacking out from drinking was one of them. 

I do not mean falling asleep or being wiped out from throwing too much booze into my body than it could handle.  To me, blacking out from drinking too much meant bits of my memory went missing. 

And I mean totally. 

Like people telling me that I went to places or did things – things that were not even embarrassing sometimes – but having no recollection of it at all. 

    Suffering blackouts from drinking alcohol

    Quite often I can remember drinking, then missing a few hours, and then ‘sobering up’ a bit and having zero recollection of the past few hours. 

    At first this was scary, but I do remember it just becoming part of what happened to me when I drunk heavily.  Which I did. A lot. 

    These ‘blackouts’ did not really mean much to me.  I mean, why should they concern me?

    I was young (at some point!) and walking around without a worry in the world.  Bulletproof. 

    It is only as I have become sober and now a mid 40s year old man that I have realised how dangerous these blackouts from drinking too much are.  

    What is blacking out from drinking?

    The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describe blackouts as

    “Alcohol-related blackouts are gaps in a person’s memory for events that occurred while they were intoxicated. These gaps happen when a person drinks enough alcohol to temporarily block the transfer of memories from short-term to long-term storage—known as memory consolidation—in a brain area called the hippocampus.”


    When experiencing blackouts from drinking, there are 2 types of blackout. 

    The first is where there are aspects of a given event missing, hazy recollections with facts or people missing from the event in question.  And the second is when hours or more has simply disappeared from a person’s memory.  These are the most severe of blackouts – and frighteningly, what I regularly used to experience in my youth, early 20s and right through to my 30s.  Regularly, and without even a second thought to it at the time. 

    From personal experience, the blackouts were as they said on the tin really.  I can remember one minute drinking with friends, maybe around someone’s house.  And the next minute, it rolls on a few hours and there are some confused faces looking at me.  The scenery had often changed.  At times there were angry people around me, at times there were not. 

    At first, I remember my friends thinking that I was just making it up, that I was just drunk and a bit confused.  But as I carried on through my drunken life, my friends accepted that I was a walking zombie at times and did not know where I was or what I was doing.  
    That is how I can best describe blacking out from drinking too much.  It was like being a living zombie.  Walking, talking but nothing inside the shell that was my body. 
    As a kid, I remember some ‘friends’ finding my drunken states quite entertaining.  With friends like those, eh?

    How can you tell if someone is blackout drunk?

    If someone is blacking out from drinking too much alcohol, it is not always clear to people around them that they are actually experiencing a blackout. Often they may just appear to be their ‘normal’ drunken selves. There are some indications that can be observed though.

    helping someone who is blacking out from drinking
    • They are getting distracted easily
    • When talking, they are repeating themselves
    • They are acting out of character
    • There is confusion evident, and the person may forget what they are saying or doing
    • Struggling to follow a conversation
    • There is a lack of concern about others in their company
    • Maybe they have drunk a lot of alcohol quickly, or consumed a lot of alcohol without food or other non-alcoholic drinks
    • They are behaving in a way that may be seen as risky, or something that they would not do normally

    What to do if someone is blackout drunk

    #Be there for them. 

    If you have a friend who is that drunk  that they are experiencing blackouts, the best thing that you can do is to be there for them.  If this is not possible, then make sure someone else can me.  Someone who is not as drunk as the person who is blacking out. 

    When a person is blackout drunk, they may well be disorientated. Offer comfort and reassurance.

    #Stop them drinking any more alcohol

    If you are with a person who is blackout drunk, try and encourage them to stop alcohol.  If possible, get them to have a non-alcoholic drink.  Feeding someone is also a good way to slow people’s drinking down without them feeling that you are telling them what to do.

    #Make sure they get home safely

    Or keep them with you, if possible.

    When I was in a state through drinking a few times, my friends called an ambulance for me.  To be honest, I was pissed off at the time, but they probably saved my life on more than one occasion.  If I ever felt that a friend was out of control or at any risk while blacking out from drinking, I would call emergency services.

    What to do if you experience blackouts from drinking

    Some suggestions to help you stop having blackouts are

    • Have something to eat before and while drinking alcohol
    • Try to slow down drinking, so if you are drinking fast, take sips and limit the actual speed that you consume an individual drink.
    • People often have a non-alcoholic drink in-between drinks – using this as a ‘spacer method’. For example, drinking a glass of water between drinks.

    If you are experiencing blacking out from drinking, it is a good indication that you should consider slowing down or even stopping your alcohol intake.

    As always, if you have any concerns, please do speak to a medical professional. This is something that I put off for a long time, through some rationale or other inside my own head. In hindsight, I wish I was just very honest with the whole medical world. The more honest you are, the better the chance they have of helping you, assessing your needs and establishing what is going on with you.

    Take care of yourself. This is not a dress-rehearsal.
    Alan Peter.

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