Blackouts are periods during which the drinker’s normal faculties for judgment, making decisions, and recording experiences as memories are impaired.
The implication is obvious: a condition in which one misjudges situations, makes unwise decisions, and can’t recall them and their outcomes later is a condition that bears examining.
An alcoholic blackout can range from mild to severe
It’s one thing to fail to remember all of a conversation over a few drinks; it’s quite another to not be able to recall how you got home, or an auto accident, or a sexual encounter.
Alcohol’s effect on the brain is such that the formation of new long-term memories is interfered with in direct proportion to the rapidity of rise in blood-alcohol level.
There are two types of blackout
“En bloc” blackouts are characterized by a fairly complete inability to recall events from a period of intoxication, while with “fragmentary” blackouts (also called brownouts) the drinker will have partial memory of events but can be unaware of missing memories unless prompted with cues. Brownouts are more common than complete blackouts.
In a survey of college students, over fifty percent had experienced at least one blackout. Associated activities included spending money, sexual activity, fighting, vandalism, and driving a car. Most of the choices involved would probably not have been made in the absence of intoxication.
Overshooting the mark
In recovery circles, there is something known as “overshooting the mark.”
This is where the intended goal when drinking is moderate, but impaired judgment—and possibly an alcohol-induced craving to continue—causes the drinker to drink beyond moderation and possibly into blackout.
Blackout episodes, then, are a clear sign of a control problem concerning use of alcohol.
If the drinker can’t drink moderately (and slowly), and blackouts and the associated consequences follow, then abstinence is indicated. If, with a severe enough history of alcohol blackouts and alcohol-related consequences, abstinence can’t be sustained, then outside help should be sought.