The Science of Blacking Out

I’m not just talking about drinking in this post. I was introduced to my senior project mentor last April and was so excited that I didn’t remember what she said and couldn’t report back to my teacher. This past May, I was required to present my senior project. I immediately blacked out and didn’t remember the presentation – I only knew I did a good job because of the score I received. And of course, there have been alcohol induced blackouts in my past. What causes blackouts? Can exciting or nervous feelings cause them? Did I have an actual “black out”?

Alcohol Blackouts 

Obviously a not remembering a night of drinking is different not remembering giving a presentation. We all have those mornings texting the group you went out with asking for details from the night before and putting the pieces together. But why did “one more shot” turn into a night of embarrassing stories you don’t remember?

According to an article called Your Brain on (Too Much) Alcohol, memories start in immediate memory, then go to short-term memory, and then to long-term memory. When someone drinks a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time, there is a blockage between the short-term and immediate memories. This means that the brain receptors that hold the memories shuts down, so you don’t remember anything.

The article explains the difference between partial and complete black outs. This depends on how much the receptors are disrupted. It was noted that it doesn’t matter how much you drink, but how quickly. They used the example of someone having a higher chance of blacking out when they down three drinks quickly compared to someone who could drink two times their BAC over a period of time and remember their entire night.

Other Blackouts

As I mentioned, I’ve experienced multiple types of blackouts – or what they seem to be. During these times, I never felt like I was going to faint. These moments have never lasted long, which makes me wonder if I would end up fainting if they were longer. According to my research, the symptoms I experienced were similar to fainting. I felt as though there was a loss of blood to my brain, and my nervous system was experiencing something that it has never been through. I regained consciousness a few minutes after the situation ended and I felt normal.

Other than fainting, I could not find any other explanation as to why I blacked out when I got nervous or excited.

How to Prevent Blacking Out

The Fix – an addiction/recovery website – explains blacking out and how to prevent it. Across the board, eating a meal before boozing can increase the chances of remembering your night. Hydrating, pacing yourself, resting, and settling for lighter drinks are obvious but effective methods for avoiding black outs. Studies show that women are more likely to blackout than men, due to their BACs escalating faster than mens.

Overall blacking out can be scary, whether it’s alcohol induced or not. It is common for a lot of people, but if you take the right precautions, blacking out can be eliminated.


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