Humans have a tendency to engage in social drinking on a variety of occasions – celebrations, parties, game days, birthdays, etc. However, there are always a few risks to this activity, and one of those includes being blackout drunk. The term “blackout drunk” describes an instance where someone becomes so intoxicated that, when the morning comes around, they recall very little to nothing of what happened during the period of time that they were drinking. The odd thing is, this person will seem completely conscious while this is taking place. So, what is actually going on in your brain - and body - when a blackout happens?
First of all, there are two different types of blackout drunkenness. The first is called “fragmentary,” and is pretty self-explanatory. It happens when a person can only remember a period of time in pieces or fragments. Although, they are also usually more prone to remembering things they may have forgotten if someone tells a story or reminds them of what happened.
The second type is referred to as “en bloc,” and is the more extreme case of a blackout. It happens when a person remembers absolutely nothing from the period of time that they were drunk.
Being blackout drunk is especially terrifying afterwards, because, although you remember little to nothing of what happened, you are usually completely conscious while you’re drunk. This is due to the fact that there is a chemical reaction happening in the brain that affects memory. The disruption happens in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which contributes to memory formation. The alcohol itself gets in the way of receptors in this region of the brain that transmit something called glutamate. Glutamate is what carries signals between neurons, meaning they are essential to the formation of long-term memories. When alcohol gets in the way of this communication, long-term memories cannot be properly formed, if at all.
This is the reason why someone who is experiencing a blackout is in fact conscious and aware of what is happening, albeit drunk as well. They are just not forming long-term memories, and, thus, cannot recall anything after waking up. It will seem as if the night never happened, or as if only some parts of it did.
Becoming blackout drunk is mainly caused by a sudden spike in blood alcohol levels. This can be caused from various things, such as drinking too fast, having a sudden intake of a lot of alcohol, or drinking a lot on a relatively empty stomach. There are ways in which these risks can be prevented – such as drinking slowly, not suddenly chugging an entire drink, and being sure to eat food or drink water occasionally.
It may seem harmless, but the dangers come with not having knowledge of what you did - or what the people around you did - if you were blackout drunk. As always, drink responsibly, and be aware of who is around you before becoming intoxicated at any level.