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Updated on July 31, 2023
8 min read

Blackout Drinking: Side Effects & How to Avoid

Mara Sugue
Elena Borrelli M.S.PAC
Written by 
8 Sources Cited
Mara Sugue
Written by 
8 Sources Cited

What is Blackout Drinking?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines alcohol blackouts as gaps in a person's memory for events that occurred while intoxicated.1

These gaps happen when enough alcohol is consumed to block the transfer of memories from short- to long-term storage.

A person experiencing an alcoholic blackout may appear to be functioning normally but have no subsequent recollection of the events during the blackout. They may not even appear to have been very intoxicated at the time.

In addition to impacting memory, getting blackout drunk can impair balance, motor coordination, decision-making, and many other body functions.

There are two different types of blackouts:

  • An en-bloc or complete blackout: People forget everything they did after a certain point during alcohol consumption.
  • A fragmentary blackout: Often called a grayout. It’s when people can still forget events but usually retain some memory.

For young adults, getting to the point of 'blackout' while drinking alcohol is common. In a study of over 1,000 college students, more than two-thirds – 66.4% – reported experiencing at least one blackout.


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How to Stop Blacking Out When Drinking

Blacking out while drinking usually happens accidentally. If you've experienced blackouts, here are some tips to consider the next time you're drinking:

Drink at least 8 oz of water between every alcoholic beverage

Drinking water in between alcoholic drinks will help limit your alcohol intake. It also helps lower your BAC levels because it dilutes the amount of alcohol absorbed into your bloodstream. 

In addition, drinking more water prevents dehydration. This gives your liver time to metabolize the alcohol you've consumed. 

Avoid drinking on an empty stomach

Drinking on an empty stomach is another way to get yourself blackout drunk. Your body absorbs alcohol much quicker if you haven't eaten for a long time. So, if you plan to have a few drinks, eat something before you start drinking.

It's also recommended to eat while drinking alcohol to prevent blackouts. Eating a snack while drinking lines your stomach with food, slowing alcohol absorption. It also helps you space out drinks. 

Limit the amount of alcohol consumed in one sitting

Reducing your alcohol intake per session will reduce the chances of blacking out. It's recommended to consume no more than two standard drinks within a single sitting.

Abstain from drinking

While it's not always possible to abstain from alcohol completely, it helps reduce the risk of blackouts. 

If it's impossible to eliminate alcohol consumption, there are many ways to cut back. For instance, you can choose to drink alcohol with a lower ABV. Or, you can choose to only drink on certain days of the week or month. 

Can Binge Drinking Lead to Blackouts? 

Blackouts are almost always associated with binge drinking. Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that increases a person's BAC to 0.08 percent or higher. Blackouts usually begin at blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of about 0.16 percent and higher.

This increased blood alcohol level typically occurs after four drinks for women and five drinks for men — in about 2 hours. This level of blood alcohol content causes a significant cognitive ability impairment, making blackouts especially dangerous.

Different Levels of Drunkenness

It can be hard to recognize when you or a friend are in danger of blacking out. However, there are some signs that people may be reaching a dangerous level of intoxication.

Keep in mind that many factors affect your body's response to alcohol. Body size, alcohol tolerance, and whether you ate earlier are a few of the most significant factors. This will affect the number of drinks it takes to reach these stages.

Here are some symptoms of progressing drunkenness, sourced from the NHS:

1 to 2 drinks

  • Increased heart rate
  • Blood vessels expand
  • Sociable & talkative
  • Feelings of "warmth"

4 to 6 drinks

  • The brain and nervous system are affected
  • Feelings of disinhibition
  • Increased recklessness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Decreased reaction time and coordination

8 to 9 drinks

  • Very slow reactions
  • Slurred speech
  • Unfocused vision
  • Poor coordination

10 to 12 drinks

  • Very poor coordination
  • Increased risk for accidents such as falls
  • The depressant effect starts to show through
  • Drowsiness
  • Increased urination
  • Dehydration or headache
  • These levels of alcohol are toxic, so you're likely to wake up hungover and potentially with digestive issues (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.)

12 or more drinks

  • High risk of alcohol poisoning
  • Trouble breathing
  • Unusual heart rate

Note: These numbers are based on average size and tolerance.


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How to Tell if Someone is Blackout Drunk

During a blackout, a person is awake, but their brain is not creating new memories.

It isn't always apparent if someone is in a blackout. Anything someone can do while drunk, they can do while blacked out – they just won't remember it the next day.

During a blackout, people remember events before their BAC reached very high levels. Blacked-out people can carry on conversations and recall stories from earlier in the evening while intoxicated.

In addition, depending on how much the person drank, they can quickly transition from a blackout to losing consciousness or alcohol overdose.

Someone who is blacked out may have the following symptoms of alcohol intoxication:

  • Confusion
  • Temporary loss of consciousness or not being able to wake up
  • Clammy skin and low body temperature
  • Slow heart rate
  • Vomiting and seizures

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Short-Term & Long-Term Effects of Blackout Drinking

Blacking out while drinking alcohol can cause many immediate consequences. Blackouts directly increase your chances of risky behavior.

This can lead to any of the following short-term effects:

  • Getting in trouble with the police
  • Damaging property
  • Missing appointments or work
  • Getting a drinking under the influence (DUI) citation or causing an accident
  • Experiencing unwanted, unsafe, and regretted sexual behaviors-
  • Getting seriously injured or killed
  • Neglecting responsibilities due to hangovers

Experiencing a single blackout doesn’t necessarily indicate that a person has a drinking problem. However, blacking out often increases the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or other health problems. If you experience blackouts regularly, you may have a drinking problem.

Long-term effects of alcohol use disorder can be severe and life-threatening, including:

  • Liver disease
  • Cardiac problems (heart attack, stroke, etc.)
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased rates of cancer
  • Memory loss
  • Trouble learning

If you or someone you know is addicted to alcohol, you should seek help. Many types of addiction treatment are available for those suffering from an alcohol use disorder.

Who is at Risk of Blacking Out?

Here are the people who are at a higher risk of blacking out:


Women are at an increased risk of blacking out. On average, women weigh less than males and, pound for pound, have less water in their bodies. They tend to reach higher peak BAC levels than males with each drink and do so more quickly. 

Young Adults

Young adults and college students tend to binge drink more often than adults. One study surveyed 772 college students to learn about their drinking habits. It found that 51 percent had blacked out at some point.

Students that blacked out often experienced adverse effects, including:

  • Risky behavior (driving, vandalism, unsafe sex)
  • Lower grades
  • Relationship issues
  • Weight Gain

People Who Take Certain Medications

Certain medications like antidepressants and "z-drugs” can increase your risk of blacking out if you take them while drinking. Mixing these drugs with alcohol can cause serious side effects. It can also affect how your body processes alcohol, leading to faster blackouts.

When to Seek Urgent Medical Care

If you think someone is passed out, check in by trying to wake them up by lightly shaking them or calling their name. You should ensure they're not in a dangerous place where someone could harm or take advantage of them.

Check if they've lost consciousness from the alcohol or if they're merely sleeping. If the person is unresponsive, or if their breathing is very shallow, they're throwing up, or they're cold and blue, they may have alcohol poisoning, so you should call 911 immediately.

If the person is acting aggressively or has had a fall or significant injury, you should call 911 immediately. Any time you’re worried, take them to the ER. Seek immediate medical care if you believe a person may have alcohol poisoning or is suffering from a drug overdose.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient treatment takes place at a licensed residential treatment center.

These programs provide 24/7 comprehensive, structured care. You'll live in safe, substance-free housing and have access to medical monitoring. 

The first step of an inpatient program is commonly detoxification. Then behavioral therapy and other services are introduced. These programs typically last 30, 60, or 90 days, sometimes longer.

Most programs help set up your aftercare once you complete the inpatient portion of your treatment.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) provide similar services to intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). These include medical services, behavioral therapy, support groups, and other customized therapies. However, in a PHP, you return home to sleep.

Some services provide food and transportation, but services vary by program. PHPs accept new patients and people who have completed an inpatient program and still need intensive treatment.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient treatment is less intensive than inpatient or partial hospitalization programs.

These programs organize your treatment session based on your schedule. The goal of outpatient treatment is to provide therapy, education, and support in a flexible environment. 

They’re best for people who are motivated to recover and cannot leave their responsibilities. Outpatient programs are often part of aftercare programs once you complete an inpatient or PHP program.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

Sometimes, professionals may use medications in alcohol addiction treatment. 

Some medicines can help reduce the negative side effects of detoxification and withdrawal. Others can help you reduce cravings and normalize body functions.

Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone are the most common medications for AUD. When combined with other evidence-based therapies (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery.

Support Groups

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery are open to anyone with a substance abuse problem.

They’re peer-led organizations dedicated to helping each other remain sober. Support groups can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.

Updated on July 31, 2023
8 sources cited
Updated on July 31, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Interrupted Memories: Alcohol-Induced Blackouts. 
  2. National Health Services. “Alcohol Misuse - Risks.”2018.
  3. Stieg, Cory. “How To Stop Blacking Out When You Drink Alcohol.” 2019. 
  4. Stieg, Cory. “What To Do If Someone Is Blackout Drunk.” 2019. 
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose.” 2021. 
  6. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What Happened? Alcohol, Memory Blackouts, and the Brain.” 
  7. BBC Future, BBC. “What We Know about Alcohol-Induced Blackouts.”
  8. White, Aaron M et al. “Prevalence and correlates of alcohol-induced blackouts among college students: results of an e-mail survey.” Journal of American college health, 2002.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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