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What is a blackout drinker?

A blackout drinker is someone who consumes so much alcohol that they experience memory loss or even pass out. Blackout drinking is extremely dangerous and a sign of alcohol abuse and addiction. In this article, we will explore what defines a blackout drinker, the causes and risks of blackout drinking, and how to identify if you or someone you know may be a blackout drinker.

What is blackout drinking?

Blackout drinking refers to consuming so much alcohol that it impairs your brain’s ability to form memories. A blackout involves memory loss for things that happened while intoxicated. The person is awake and engaging in activities like talking or even driving, but the brain does not create memories for these events. The next day, the person has little or no recollection of portions of the night.

Type of Blackout Description
Fragmentary blackouts Patchy memories of events, partial amnesia
En bloc blackouts Complete memory loss for a period of time, waking up with no recollection of the night before

Blackout drinking usually occurs after rapidly consuming a large amount of alcohol. Binge drinking, defined as consuming 4+ drinks for women or 5+ drinks for men in two hours or less, often leads to blackouts. The rapid spike in blood alcohol concentration (BAC) overwhelms the brain’s ability to form memories. Blackouts also frequently occur when drinking on an empty stomach or when combining alcohol with medications or other drugs.

Who is at risk for blackout drinking?

Anyone who drinks excessive amounts of alcohol quickly is at risk of a blackout. However, some factors increase vulnerability:

  • Binge drinking or drinking heavily in a short period
  • Being female – women reach higher BACs faster than men
  • Drinking on an empty stomach
  • Taking medications or drugs that interact with alcohol
  • Having a family history of alcoholism or addiction
  • Starting to drink at a young age

Repeated blackout drinking indicates a serious problem with alcohol. Someone who frequently blacks out from drinking is considered a heavy drinker or abuser of alcohol.

What are the dangers of blackout drinking?

Blackout drinking comes with many risks and dangers:

  • Memory loss for events, conversations, actions
  • Increased risk of accidents, falls, injuries
  • Greater chance of violence, arguments, unsafe behavior
  • Physical illness – nausea, vomiting, headaches, passing out
  • Impaired decision making, poor judgement
  • Unprotected sex, unsafe behavior leading to STI/STDs or unplanned pregnancy
  • Drink driving, DUIs, public intoxication charges
  • Choking on vomit while passed out
  • Alcohol poisoning, respiratory depression

Blackout drinkers put themselves and others at risk for many types of harm. The memory loss and lack of inhibition makes the drinker more likely to act dangerously or make poor decisions with serious consequences.

Long-term effects of repeated blackouts

Frequent blackout drinking can cause long-term health effects:

  • Brain damage – repeated drinking to blackout can impair memory, mental function
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) – brain disorder caused by vitamin B1 deficiency common in alcoholics
  • Mental health issues – increased risk of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts
  • Alcoholism and addiction
  • Liver disease, pancreatitis, gastritis, cardiac issues
  • Increased tolerance leading to binge drinking more often

People who experience frequent blackouts should seek help for alcohol abuse and addiction. Their drinking patterns likely signify the development of alcoholism.

Signs someone may be a blackout drinker

Look for these possible signs that someone may have a blackout drinking problem:

  • Frequently forgetting events or conversations after drinking
  • “Lost time” or an inability to account for hours of the night
  • Finding belongings, items they can’t remember obtaining
  • Suspicious injuries, bruises, or scrapes with no explanation
  • Hearing stories about their behavior that they cannot recall
  • A patchy memory or “islands” of memory loss from the night
  • Waking up in an unexpected place like outdoors, a strange house, or jail

These memory gaps and patches are telltale signs of blackout drinking. If this happens repeatedly, it indicates an urgent need to address the person’s alcohol consumption.

How to help a blackout drinker

Here are some tips if you suspect someone you care about is a blackout drinker:

  • Keep track of evidence of their blackouts – write down dates, events, sources.
  • Record specific examples of their dangerous behavior during blackouts.
  • Speak to them when sober and express your concern for their drinking.
  • Avoid shaming and blaming language, use “I” statements to share worries.
  • Encourage them to stop drinking or seek help from their doctor or a treatment program.
  • Consider attending Al-Anon meetings for support if they resist getting help.
  • Set boundaries if they become angry or refuse to discuss their drinking.

Blackout drinkers often deny or minimize the severity of their problem. Expressing care, providing concrete examples of harm, and outlining clear consequences can motivate them to change. In some cases, an alcohol intervention or rehab program may be necessary.

Preventing blackout drinking

To avoid blacking out:

  • Drink within low-risk limits – no more than 3 drinks in a day for women or 4 for men.
  • Pace yourself – have no more than 1 drink per hour.
  • Drink with food – eating helps slow absorption of alcohol.
  • Alternate alcohol with water or non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Keep track of number of drinks consumed.
  • Avoid drinking games, shots, and chugging alcohol.
  • Use a designated driver, taxi, or rideshare.
  • Know your limits and stop drinking before you reach them.

Following safe drinking guidelines can help individuals avoid experiencing an alcohol-induced blackout.

Getting help for alcohol abuse

Those who experience repeated blackouts or alcohol-related problems should seek professional treatment options such as:

  • Talking to a doctor for a full evaluation
  • Outpatient counseling for alcohol dependence
  • Medications to curb drinking cravings
  • Inpatient rehabilitation programs
  • 12-step recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy for addiction
  • Support groups for people in recovery

Overcoming alcohol addiction and abuse leading to blackouts takes commitment, honesty, and daily work. But many different treatment approaches and community supports exist to help people achieve sobriety.


Blackout drinking involves consuming so much alcohol you lose memory formation while awake. It is extremely dangerous, tied to addiction, and can lead to many harms. Recognizing if you or someone you know blacks out regularly is the first step to getting help for problem drinking. With treatment, support, and health changes, individuals can recover from alcohol abuse and regain control of their lives.