3 Things You Should Know About Alcohol and Blackouts

Last Updated on July 31, 2019


Memory loss and blackouts are a common symptom of heavy alcohol use. A blackout occurs when someone drinks enough to forget events that happened while drinking. In this post we discuss:

  1. How much drinking causes a blackout
  2. How common blackouts are
  3. The relationship between gender and blackouts

Drinking large amounts of alcohol, especially when drinking quickly and on an empty stomach, can result in blackouts. Typically this means a blood alcohol content (BAC) of over 0.2 but can start as low as 0.14. To put this into context, the legal BAC limit to drive a vehicle is 0.08. This is important because your alcohol tolerance may not be as low or high as someone else. On that same note, you may be able to function at a very high BAC, which leads you to repeatedly drink at toxic levels. What is most frightening is that blackouts can last anywhere from nine hours to three days.

Blackouts are especially high-risk in college where binge drinking (5+ drinks in 2 hours for men, 4+ drinks for women) is part of the culture and socially encouraged. In this sub-group of individuals there is also an increased engagement in risky behavior, such as vandalism, unprotected and unwanted sex, mixing alcohol with other drugs, and driving under the influence. However, anyone with heavy drinking behaviors is at risk for experiencing blackouts and making poor decisions. Incredibly, about 51% of people have experienced an alcohol-induced blackout in their lives.

The percentage of women that have Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is growing at a staggering rate, with an 84% increase in the last 15 years. In men, there has been a 35% increase in AUD. One might infer that the social movement towards gender equality has bled over into a more “fair” distribution of alcohol. Furthermore, though men usually drink larger amounts more frequently than women, studies have shown that women are at greater risk than males for experiencing blackouts. Similar studies also revealed that females were more susceptible to milder forms of alcohol-induced memory impairments at comparable amounts of alcohol. Since alcohol is a function of body weight, women generally have higher blood alcohol levels after drinking the same amount as men. Higher blood alcohol levels increase the risk for having a blackout; hence the rate of blackouts in women are increasing. The good news is that many people with AUD and memory impairment regain some of their brain functioning within a year of decreased drinking.

Clearly, there needs to be a better control over the alcohol epidemic and the threat towards forming memories of our day-to-day lives. This change can be made today.

– Daisy Young, Touro University California


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