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What does it look like when someone blackouts?

Blacking out can be a scary experience, both for the person experiencing it and for those around them. A blackout refers to a period of amnesia during a time when someone is awake and active. They may appear normal and carry on conversations or perform complex tasks, but afterward have no memory of the events. Blackouts are most commonly caused by excessive alcohol consumption, but can also result from head injuries, seizures, strokes, or other medical conditions. Understanding what blackouts look like and how to help someone experiencing one is important.

What Causes Blackouts?

Blackouts are caused by a disruption in the brain’s ability to transfer short-term memory into long-term storage. Normally memories are consolidated and stored during sleep. But in a blackout state, the brain is unable to record memory, despite the person being awake and functioning.

The most common cause of blackouts is consuming too much alcohol. At high blood alcohol levels, alcohol inhibits neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for forming memories. As a result, the person remains conscious, but their brain cannot create memories properly of what’s happening.

Other causes of blackouts include:

  • Head injury or concussion
  • Epileptic seizure
  • Transient global amnesia
  • Stroke
  • Syncope or fainting
  • Some medications like benzodiazepines
  • Medical conditions like sleep apnea or heart arrhythmia

These conditions disrupt normal brain functioning and blood flow, compromising the brain’s ability to form and store new memories.

What Does a Person Look Like During a Blackout?

During a blackout, a person may display some of the following characteristics and behaviors:

  • Appears lucid and awake, but is mentally “not there”
  • Can hold conversations, but may seem very repetitive
  • Has glassy, vacant eyes lacking focus
  • Seems disoriented and confused if questioned
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Poor coordination and stumbling movements
  • Swaying, inability to walk straight
  • Delayed responses and reaction times
  • Mood changes like anger, giddiness, or sadness
  • Poor judgement and risky decision making
  • Violent or erratic behavior
  • Nausea or vomiting

Despite their altered mental state, the person remains responsive and can engage in simple talk and actions. They are essentially on auto-pilot and experiencing amnesia of their behaviors. Those interacting with them may notice repetitive questions, delayed responses, memory gaps, and illogical statements.

What Happens After a Blackout?

Once a blackout ends and normal brain functioning returns, the person will have complete amnesia of events during the blackout period. They were essentially awake but not recording memories properly.

Coming out of a blackout can feel frightening and disorienting. The person may experience:

  • Confusion about where they are or how they got there
  • Panic or anxiety realizing they cannot remember recent events
  • Nausea, vomiting, or headaches from alcohol overdose
  • Fatigue, weakness, or muscle soreness
  • Evidence of risky behavior like injuries or strange belongings
  • Gaps in conversation or plans
  • Regret or embarrassment about possible words or actions

The person relies on others to fill in details from during the blackout. They may never recover these lost memories, which can be unsettling. Some also suffer from poor judgement and dangerous behavior during blackouts, so may fear consequences of their unremembered actions.

How to Help Someone Experiencing a Blackout

If you suspect someone is in a blackout state, here are some tips:

  • Ask simple questions to gauge their awareness and memory
  • Speak slowly and clearly using direct phrases
  • Limit distractions and give one instruction at a time
  • Maintain a safe environment by removing hazards if possible
  • Stay calm and avoid confrontation or anger
  • Monitor them for signs of alcohol poisoning or injury
  • Don’t leave them alone or let them wander off
  • Gently guide them away from destructive or risky behavior
  • Offer water and try to get them to rest
  • Get medical help if you have serious concerns

The main priority is keeping the person safe until the blackout passes. They are in a vulnerable state and need monitoring and protection both physically and emotionally. Reassure them and try to jog their memory gently. Understanding blackout signs allows you to better help someone through this state.

Are Blackouts Dangerous?

While blackouts themselves are not directly dangerous physically, the underlying cause and behavior during a blackout can be. Some risks include:

  • Falls, injuries, accidents
  • Choking on vomit from alcohol poisoning
  • Reckless behavior like drunk driving, aggression, unprotected sex
  • Memory loss of traumatic events
  • Wandering into unsafe situations
  • Aspiration pneumonia if vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Head trauma if already intoxicated
  • Assault or victimization

The blackout state reduces inhibitions and judgement, so people may act in ways they normally would not. Those surrounding someone in a blackout need to protect them from harming themselves or others. Seek emergency care if they lose consciousness, have seizures, injure their head or have difficulty breathing.

Preventing Blackouts

The best way to prevent blackouts is to avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Binge drinking and quickly consuming multiple drinks increases risk dramatically. Other tips include:

  • Pace drinks to no more than one per hour
  • Drink water between alcoholic drinks
  • Eat food before and while drinking
  • Set a drink limit and stick to it
  • Avoid drinking games or shots
  • Use a designated driver

General healthy lifestyle habits like proper sleep, nutrition, and hydration also help moderate alcohol absorption. People who experience frequent or unpredictable blackouts should consult a doctor to rule out underlying medical conditions. But avoiding alcohol altogether is the only guaranteed way to prevent alcohol-related blackouts.


Blackouts can be alarming experiences both for the people undergoing them and friends or family witnessing odd behavior. But understanding what blackouts are, what causes them, identifying signs and symptoms, and how to properly assist someone can help reduce associated risks. Most blackouts resolve on their own as the alcohol metabolizes and normal brain function returns. But providing a safe environment and monitoring for safety is key. Frequent or worsening blackouts require medical evaluation to rule out serious health issues. Overall though, prevention starts with moderating and being mindful of alcohol intake.