Why Blackouts Are SO Dangerous For Your Long Term Health

They can be the gift that keeps on giving.

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

“A clear conscience is the sure sign of a bad memory.”
― Mark Twain

Having been a heavy drinker for 19 years of my life, I’ve had my fair share of blackouts. In fact, for probably the last two years of drinking, it probably would’ve seemed weird if I drink and didn’t blackout.

Now, I’m not talking about full blackouts in which I couldn’t remember anything during the course of the night and wondered how I got home.

That DID happen once or twice but not that often.

I’m just talking about a weird reoccurrence in which I could remember everything before I started drinking and even during the course of the night but, for the life of me, I could never…and I mean NEVER remember what Family Guy episode I watched whenever I got home.

This came about because I had a ritual in which whenever I got home from drinking I would order Uber Eats or eat whatever was left in the fridge while watching the latest episode of Family Guy.

However, every morning when I woke up I could not remember exactly what the episode was about in any respect.

At first, I thought it was just funny how this happened and not a big deal. And then I began to do a bit of an experiment in which I would do my best to remember the episode.

Time after time, I order food and turn on the TV to scroll through the episodes. One thing that I always found weird was that I was able to recognize what episodes I had seen when I wasn’t blacked out during this time, so I always chose something that I thought was new.

However, each morning when I would look at my “watched” box, I would not remember watching the episode at all.

That’s when the overall effect of blackouts began to hit me, and I started wondering if I wasn’t seriously damaging my brain by not being able to ever remember what I watched when I got home.

And if I was, was this damage permanent?

The answers were YES…I was damaging my brain, but NO…it was not permanent.

At least not yet.

I now recognize that blackouts should not be ignored, as they are extremely dangerous to your health for a number of reasons.

You Can Make Decisions That Could Put You In Harms Way Without Realizing It

Some of us may have experienced this before.

You’ll wake up at home in your bed and can’t quite remember HOW you got home. You’ll jump up to see if your car is packed outside and see it half-slanted in a parking spot, clearly indicating that you were in no position to drive when you made that decision.

I’ve experienced this more than a few times in my life and always used to beat myself up the next day about it.

Most of the time, I would make the right decision to not drive and get an Uber or ride with a friend home, but there were always those few times that I made the decision to drive home on my own.

Every time this happened, I would try to recall my thought process when this decision was made, and many times, I could not quite get to WHY I decided to do this because I was blacked out at the time.

This related to me having what is known as a “fragmentary blackout” or grayout/brownout from the night before in which I couldn’t remember certain parts of the night. This is different from the “en bloc” blackout in which nothing is remembered from a certain time period.

The scarier part about this was that my friends often did not try to stop me because to them I appeared pretty normal to drive.

This is one of the more immediate dangerous parts of a blackout, as many times, while your hippocampus is completely impaired to make and store new memories, all of your cognitive and motor skills appear to be perfectly intact.

This has led to situations in which people made the decision to drive, get in a fight, or have sex with someone when they really were in no frame of mind to really do so.

These decisions could result in actions that change people’s lives forever.

You Can Drink Yourself to Death

One of the assessments that may be hard to make when you are blacked out is exactly how much you should be drinking at that time.

Since you will feel normal at the moment and may not be exhibiting any outer signs of high alcohol intoxication, your brain will probably not tell you that you should slow down or stop drinking.

Blackouts tend to begin at a blood alcohol level of about 0.16 percent (nearly twice the legal driving limit).

However, they can happen much faster with people who drink on an empty stomach or drink large amounts of alcohol in a short time frame, i.e. binge drink.

Because women tend to weigh less than men and have less water in their bodies, pound for pound, they are at a greater risk of having blackouts than men. This is also more likely to happen to those individuals who take sleep or anti-anxiety medications.

When this happens, the person drinking may not be able to judge that she or he has had enough and can be in danger of continuing to drink to the 0.2 or 0.3 BAC level that could put them in danger of getting alcohol poisoning.

This is why many people who experience alcohol poisoning typically don’t remember much of the latter part of the night, as their mind was shut off while their bodies continued to make decisions on their behalf.

Couple this with the fact that this could also lead to the gag reflex and autonomic response being delayed, and one can understand how the danger of choking to death on one’s own vomit is very real when one gets to the point of a heavy blackout.

Your Ability to Retain Memories Can Be Permanently Damaged

To be clear, there has been no actual scientific connection between blackouts and permanent brain damage, however, there is a connection between the frequency of blackouts being an indicator of potential alcoholism and subsequent brain damage related to that.

It used to be believed that drinking killing brain cells and therefore caused the blackout.

Now, however, we know that this is caused by alcohol interfering with the receptors in our brain that carry signals between our neurons. It can inhibit some, while activating others, causing them to create certain steroids that prevent memory formation.

While blackouts are not a direct sign of addiction, they can be a very early indicator of being in the early phases of alcohol-use disorder, and this is what can lead to permanent impairment of memory formation over time.

2013 study found that an estimated 78 percent of people diagnosed with AUD experienced changes to the brain, which could lead to dementia.

Blackouts on a regular basis are a warning sign that you could be heading in that direction if you don’t cut back on your drinking volume or stop drinking altogether.


The brain is an amazing organ, as it is the supercomputer that has created this amazing world in which we live. Drinking to the point may of blacking out may seem harmless at the moment and funny the next day, but in reality, it couldn’t be further from it.

You should always be mindful of how much you drink and not allow this to happen if you can, as you could be at risk of losing much more than just the time it takes to rewatch that Family Guy episode again.