“Blacking out” is a common term among alcoholics and binge drinkers. It represents moments of lost memories; a time when excessive boozing leads to reckless behavior and dangerous health scares. To their credit, U.S. News and World Report brought this topic to the forefront of their website this week; making sure readers understand all of the risks (and damage) this kind of indulgence can cause.
Approaching these experiences from a scientific angle, U.S. News interviewed reps from The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. According to their definition, a blackout can be categorized in two different ways.
The first type of blackout can last for hours on end. In this scenario (labeled “en bloc“), a person may not be able to remember large chunks of time. They can usually recall the first few drinks they consumed, but soon the amount becomes so great that it actually disrupts the brain’s ability to record memories.
Scenario number two can be labeled a fragmentary blackout (or “brownout“). This happens in spurts and may involve spotty memories of events. Though not as dangerous as the en bloc experience, this still accounts for missing time.
Another interesting observation is that different people behave in different ways when going through a blackout. For most, there will be slurred speech, difficulty standing, and fits of severe emotion (all of the mannerisms of “drunk behavior”). But for others, impairment isn’t as obvious and they can actually function normally during a blackout period.
And the article also makes a point to distinguish blacking out from passing out. Institute rep Reagan R. Wetherill was interviewed for U.S. News and explained some of the differences.
“During a blackout, a person is able to actively engage and respond to [his or her] environment,” Wetherill explained. “However, the brain is not creating memories for the events. Essentially, alcohol alters and impairs memory formation by suppressing activity within the hippocampus and other regions of the brain involved in the transfer of information from short-term to long-term memory.”
It was noted that quick consumption of alcohol plays a role in blacking out as well. Often times, they occur after multiple drinks in a short period of time versus an excessive all night bender.
But let it be known that these scenarios can create both short and long-term damage. Brain cells are always put at risk when overindulging in alcohol. And in the blackout haze, judgments are severely impaired; which can lead to car accidents, fist fights and life-threatening mistakes.