alcohol blackout

What Happens to the Brain During an Alcohol Blackout

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

It’s fun here and there to tamper with the devil’s juice. We’re talking about hooch, grandpa’s cough syrup, liquid bread, booze, and the sauce. You know, that stuff that gives us the “liquid courage” we crave. Mhmm, you got it- we’re talking about alcohol. But it’s fun to dabble a little bit every now and then with such elixirs right? Essentially, sure that’s the idea. Drink a little bit here and there to unload the stress or maybe when the time for a celebration calls I suppose. Seems logical and simple when put like that, but then we throw those of us who have alcoholic mindsets into the mix, and now you have a different solution to that equation.

Addicts and alcoholics generally love to do anything in excess. Anything that fills a void and gives that feeling of being whole and not lost in this ever changing world we were cast into. So unsurprisingly, the taste of alcohol sparks something inside of us and we choose to drink more than your average fellow. We are also probably the most experienced with alcohol blackouts due to the nature of our ways and the disease embedded in our DNA if you will. Regardless of the fact, most people who have ever gone out to some sort of festivity or another have experienced one of these neurological shutdowns.

The Bottle and the Damage Done

Often times, those of us who had been binge drinking or gone out for a night on the town with some friends, we ended up getting just completely blindsided by an alcohol blackout and could not fend for ourselves most likely. End up waking up in a random place that is not your bed or your home sometimes for that matter. Items might be missing from our purses or pockets. Sometimes there are stains on our clothing including but not limited to the food and drink that went in our bodies or stains from when they were coming back out. (Insert imagination right here) not a pretty thought- I know I know. Despite that little graphic image and the physical aspect, what’s going on upstairs in the brain is usually pretty detrimental. I mean for starters, I know this will be a shock for some folks, but alcohol kills. Yeah, I said it. It enjoys shutting organs down that try to play the game and process the liquid death we are pumping into our stomachs. Kidneys, liver, the heart, the brain and more at some point will start to succumb to the powers that be.

In a sense of words, when we end up disappearing from consciousness, many aspects of our brains are affected by this excessive drinking. Usually, these blackouts are due to alcohol blocking certain receptors in our brains and disrupting all sorts of communication between different parts of the mind- specifically referring to the hippocampus.  The specific neurons being transmitted to and from there help create long-term potentiation. LTP, as it’s called, takes a key role in developing memory. During an alcohol blackout, the brain loses the ability to learn and store information almost. The receptors being blocked help to prevent the brain from creating new memories of any sort. This is why when we finally sober up- we have no recollection of the time period and what we were doing. It becomes a mystery unless somebody is there to inform us of the tragic events that surely transpired. The thing is, when somebody gets to the point of blacking out, they are usually extremely intoxicated. A lot of the time, alcohol poisoning and blackouts will coincide with each other. A person will lose all cognitive and rational thought as they habitually down more of the liquid. Blacking out can be extremely dangerous due to impaired motor function and horrible judgment. But not to be fooled, this is not something that only happens to alcoholics. Yes, we are more prone to going through it, but this can happen to anybody with a low tolerance or even just a knack for binge drinking.

drunk man passed out

The idea behind alcohol blackouts isn’t so much about how much alcohol was consumed, but more so about how quickly it was ingested. Essentially, in a nutshell, your brain, and the receptors are becoming flooded from the alcohol going into your blood stream. What happens is the liver and kidneys aren’t able to process it as quick as the body would like and so then the brain kinds of just drowns itself for a little bit. The hippocampus, as mentioned earlier, just kind of shuts down and stops processing things at full capacity. Hopefully, most who are reading this can understand why this is and can be so detrimental to the brain over the course of time.  

Studies have shown over and over the awful decisions individuals are more prone to making during an alcohol blackout to that of somebody sober or even more sobered up. The assessments made in such a state of intoxication are usually that of off-kilter and on the “poor choice” side of things. Research has shown that individuals are more likely to fight, drive drunk, or engage in regrettable sexual conduct than if they were at a point of complete consciousness. You’re there, but you’re not there. At the end of the day, pounding down the booze should just be a no-no. Some can drink a little here and there and then some of us can’t. Really, it all boils down to what effect it is you’re chasing from drinking it.

Forgetting to Remember

Some of us get to a point where our memory just drifts in and out. We’ve beat our brains up and time is just kind of blending together. This can cause all sorts of miscommunication and problems with the people involved with us. If you or a loved one is struggling with chemical dependency or constant blackouts and are ready for help, please call 1-844-489-0836 or visit We are ready to give you any suggestions possible for treatment and recovery and set you or your loved one on a path that we can all be proud of.

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