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The Real Consequences of Alcohol Blackouts

alcohol blackouts

Drinking to the point of blacking out, unfortunately is an action that has become synonymous in many college campuses around the country, and spreading into underage drinking too.

What many people fail to realize when they are drinking this much, is that blacking out is not just one “drinking too much”, actually, it’s your brain shutting itself down into a coma and into unconsciousness.

Blacking out into a coma, due to drinking too much alcohol is something that affects the brain in such a severe way, that it may leave behind long term or permanent damages one might not ever be aware of.

Damages that start from the moment you fall unconscious.

Into Unconsciousness

When one consumes a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time, a blackout occurs. A blackout is a phenomenon in which both long-term and short-term memory is impaired, creating an inability for those moments to be recalled in the future. Also added to a blackout is the subsequent unconsciousness that occurs.

To get a clear understanding about what being unconscious actually is, Psychology Today gives a thorough and detailed explanation:

“The unconscious is where most of the work of the mind gets done; it’s the repository of automatic skills (such as riding a bike), the source of intuition and dreams, the engine of much information processing. Fleeting perceptions register in the unconscious mind long before we may be aware of them. The unconscious mind is not some black hole of unacceptable impulses waiting to trip you up, but it can be the source of hidden beliefs, fears, and attitudes that interfere with everyday life. Most forms of psychotherapy aim to bring into conscious awareness many of these hidden hindrances, so that we can examine them and choose how to deal with them.”

However, a determining factor on the health regarding the individual unconscious depends on the form in which that unconsciousness was reached.

Whenever we fall into unconsciousness, we disconnect ourselves from reality, creating a gap between our physical selves to our mental selves. This gap, or bridge, is maintained through a life of healthy living. However, this gap is also worsened by repeated trips into unconsciousness, deteriorating the bridge.

It is this fragile bridge that keeps us teetering on the brink of becoming a vegetable (a catatonic state) to being fully aware.

Manipulating and playing around recklessly with this nature of the brain can become extremely dangerous after doing it for long periods of times.

It is in this moment after drinking heavy amounts of alcohol in a short time that will result in blacking out.

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The Brain and Blacking Out

If you’ve ever experienced waking up after a night of drinking to a strange place, not knowing how or when you got there, you might have experienced a blackout.

Blacking out is a far more intensive problem than the commonality of its use would have many of us believe.

The brain goes from an unconscious state to a coma during the blackout.

The reason this progresses to that point, is because once reached, waking the individual up is impossible. When in a coma, the only way to wake the person up is through their own processes.

When an individual has drank themselves into a coma, they are then referred to as “comatose”.

Comas differ from person to person and situation to situation.

Luckily, most alcohol induced comas tend to be rather short term, relative to more severe comas such as a diabetic coma. While an alcohol induced coma might not be as serious, it still carries with it a plethora of issues.

Issues relating to this act include, but are not limited to:

  • Short and long term memory loss.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Long nightmares.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • In rare cases: neurological damage.

While these apply mainly to alcohol related coma states, it is also possible for this to be reached, at times easier in fact, through other substances.

When awake and conscious, two functions occur in the brain. The cerebral cortex and the reticular activating system regulate activity within the brain.

When alcohol is introduced to this process, the signals between the two parts become jumbled, as it becomes harder to interpret.

If, as said before, to much alcohol is consumed in a short time, these two parts of the brain, while they don’t fully shut down, it is rendered useless for some time.

This time is where the true danger of blacking out takes hold.

During this fragile time of the brain rewiring and rearranging everything it holds, it accidentally deletes and impairs many of the memories stored within it. While this is more proposed than proved as of yet, it most certainly fits the explanations regarding fMRI of the brain conducted in several different studies.

Who’s at Risk

binge drinkers

Studies have shown that those who engage in binge drinking are statistically more likely than the average alcohol user to blackout routinely.

A problem that arises with this, is that we as humans are extremely susceptible to falling into patterns. Whether good, bad, or harmful, we easily fall into habits and patterns.

Binge drinking alone, is something that many who do it, only do it because it has become routine. Not only is that a vitally important sign of addiction, but also shows how easy we can teach ourselves habits.

Typically, the highest number of recorded binge and blackout drinking is in the young adult community: college and high school students.

In fact, underage drinking is one of the highest contributing factors found in those who either die of alcohol poisoning or have been found unconscious from drinking.

According to the NIH, they found that nearly 3 thousand college student die yearly from alcohol abuse in the country. This shocking statistic is not only referencing just alcohol consumers, but more specifically binge drinkers that are so common now at nearly every college campus.

While not brought about often, underage alcohol abuse poses a severe threat to our future of citizens.

The problem with underage alcohol abusers, is that the brain is still in its developmental stage. The brain is not fully grown yet and still changing and adapting. When constantly drinking to the point of falling into unconsciousness and then a coma, it compromises the entire growth process of the brain.

The science is still being figured out at this point, but evidence is pointing to alcohol abuse through the teenage years, might be leading to a halt in brain growth.

Evidence to prove this also shows that one of the last things to develop in a growing brain is the part that deals with impulse control. In many of the recorded cases of underage binge drinkers, a most common factor shared widely between many of them, is a lack of impulse control.

The issue of alcohol abuse affects nearly 16 million Americans yearly. Binge drinking cases are constantly on the rise, even accounting for an increase in population. On college campuses around the country, alcohol bans are being passed to combat the growing problem.

As of right now, there doesn’t seem to be a clear solution to deal with the rising numbers, but individually there is help. Talk to an addiction specialist today to avoid damaging the most mysterious object in the known universe: your brain.


Stephanie T.

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