Have you ever awoken after a night of drinking and were clueless about what happened or what you did? Or have you ever been drinking and found yourself in a strange location but had no clue as to how you got there? If any of these episodes of amnesia sounds familiar, then you have experienced an alcohol-induced blackout.
Blackouts occur when alcohol prevents the imprinting of memories from short-term memory to long-term memory.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are two different types of blackouts (memory loss) induced by alcohol.
- The first is a partial blackout and it usually occurs after you consume a small amount of alcohol eg forgetting what topic you are talking about in the middle of a conversation. With a partial blackout, you may forget information that you know, like your address or phone number, or the names of people whom you know well. When someone offers a missing piece of information, your mind is able to recall what happened during a partial blackout.
- The second type is called a complete alcohol blackout. You may physically be able to function and perform mental tasks but you aren’t your normal self. The ability to make decisions and judge actions is impaired during a blackout. Since you have little or no control over your emotions and impulses during this interval of time, your behavior can be wildly unpredictable. Blackouts can last for a few minutes or up to a week after drinking. During this episode, you are unable to retain any memory. When others try to fill in the blanks, you are completely unable to recall any information.
Blackouts are usually caused by heavy drinking on an empty stomach. Binge drinking (more than 5-6 drinks in a span of few hours) makes your blood alcohol levels rise too rapidly, thus producing a blackout.
Other things you should know about blackouts:
Women are much more susceptible because of differences in how men and women metabolize alcohol. Females also may be more susceptible than males to milder forms of alcohol-induced memory impairments, even when men and women consume comparable amounts of alcohol.
Hence binge alcohol consumption warrants early medical intervention before it leads to permanent memory impairment.