The Truth About Alcoholic Blackouts Revealed

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : January 04, 
| 4 Sources

Alcohol Blackout
Drinking Blackout

Undoubtedly a sign of alcohol abuse, but are drinking blackouts symptomatic of alcoholism?

alcoholic blackouts

Alcoholic blackouts are most definitely a sign of alcohol abuse but they are not necessarily a sign of alcoholism. Alcohol blackouts most typically occur when somebody has been drinking to excess over a relatively short period of time. It could lead to impaired memory of the events that happened while intoxicated, and a significantly increased risk of injuries as well as other harms.

Alcohol abuse is defined as drinking more than moderate drinking guidelines, so if you have an alcoholic blackout you are obviously abusing alcohol.

However, there is a big difference between abusing alcohol and being an alcoholic. (Read drinking problems to discover the difference between the two)

Yes, blackouts may seem to pale into insignificance when compared with some of the health problems caused by alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

However, this does not mean alcohol induced blackouts do not warrant concern.

"If you're unsure whether alcohol may be a problem, speak with one of our supportive counselors. With many having first-hand experience they understand the struggle. The free chat is confidential & they are available 24/7."

Consequences of Blackouts

A number of surveys have been conducted on college students who had experienced alcohol-induced blackouts. The risk for blackouts has been shown to increase with binge drinking frequency.

This research revealed that the students had participated in various high-risk activities like engaging in unprotected sex, drunk-driving, committing vandalism and other irresponsible and dangerous activities.

In another instance, a lawyer used a blackout as a defense for his client. The man had beaten his wife to death.

The court was told that the man was in an alcoholic blackout and did not know what he was doing at the time.

Alcoholic-blackouts can occur at any time during or after a drinking binge. As the amount of consumed alcohol increases, so does the severity of the memory lapses.

You could be driving, walking, working or engaging in activities that require concentration.

The potential consequences of a blackout are frightening.

Are you having alcohol-induced blackouts? Do you want to do something about your drinking but are unwilling to embrace Alcoholics Anonymous and its insistence on complete abstention from alcohol? The Sinclair Method is a viable and statistically effective alternative to the 12 steps, involving none of the shame and powerlessness used in the AA recovery system.

What are Alcoholic Blackouts Exactly?

People who experience blackouts suffer an impaired ability to decide and judge, or possesses minimal or no control at all over their impulses.

The occurrence of an alcohol induced blackout can be unpredictable both in severity and in timing.

They can last for a few minutes or for much longer. There are stories of people having blackouts for up to a week and getting up to all kinds of behavior.

To those meeting them all may seem normal and yet, the person undergoing the blackout remembers nothing.

According to medical researchers, when an individual experiences an alcohol induced blackout, his consciousness remains throughout the period, but he does not have complete recollection of what happened during that time.

What transpired was not captured by the brain for recall. It is like amnesia which is induced by alcohol abuse.

Two Types of Alcohol Induced Blackout

The first are known as fragmentary or partial blackouts:

  • Occur when low level of alcohol is consumed.
  • You forget names or what you were talking about in the middle of a conversation.
  • Partially interfere with memory formation during intoxication.
  • Remember missing pieces if prompted, or reminded of the situation.

The other are complete or en bloc, blackouts:

  • The person is physically and mentally able to perform actions, but does not seem like his normal self.
  • Individual still conscious but unable to retain any memory of what happened during the blackout.
  • Prompting and reminding will not lead to any recall of the event.
  • Inability to transfer or imprint memory from the present and short term to long tern storage is blocked.

How to Avoid Alcohol Induced Blackouts

You do not have to be an alcoholic to suffer blackouts.

Most blackouts are caused by the rapid ingestion of a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time.

For example, someone who downs several shots of alcohol in rapid succession within an hour has a higher chance of experiencing a blackout than someone who drinks the same amount over a longer period of time.

Abstinence from alcohol is the only certain way to avoid alcoholic blackouts.

However, it is highly unlikely you will suffer an alcoholic blackout, if you drink within safe limits.

For those who want to drink alcohol, the best way to lower the risks of blackouts is to drink slowly over a period of time. Monitor your own alcohol consumption and ask your family and friends around you to do just the same.

Allow your body to process the alcohol and avoid binge drinking. It is wise to ensure there is a sober friend nearby if you plan to drink heavily.

"If you're unsure whether alcohol may be a problem, speak with one of our supportive counselors. With many having first-hand experience they understand the struggle. The free chat is confidential & they are available 24/7."

If you or someone close to you wants help and advice on quitting drinking then take a look at the following pages:

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Interrupted Memories: Alcohol-Induced Blackouts. October 2019.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. What Happened? Alcohol, Memory Blackouts, and the Brain. 2003.

BBC. Why do only some people get blackout drunk?. June 14, 2018.

JAMA Psychiatry. Genetic Epidemiology of Alcohol-Induced Blackouts. March 2004.

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