Q&A- Alcohol Blackouts and Behavior

Susan S. Woods, Ph.D.question and answer with Dr. Susan S. Woods

Q:Are alcohol blackouts and the behavior during a blackout two separate things? Are you still conscious

and fully aware of your actions but not able to store them in your long-term memory? Doesn’t alcohol just

reduce your inhibitions and it does not “change” your personality (you just follow instinct and natural

impulses) or is it totally different during a blackout?

A:Alcoholic blackouts are most commonly triggered by consuming large amounts of alcohol over a short period of

time. Sometimes people are conscious during the blackout but have no recall or only partial recall of their acts

during them. These so called fragmentary blackouts usually respond to reminders if someone who witnessed

the behavior brings them to mind. Full blackouts on the other hand, do not respond to reminders and the person

may have no recall whatsoever of their actions while experiencing a blackout. During a blackout, a person has

impaired judgement and a reduced ability to make good decisions. Frequently, their behavior is erratic and of

a high risk nature like driving a car, engaging in unprotected sex, shop-lifting, vandalism and fi ghting both verbal

and physical.

Genetics can determine blackout susceptibility, some studies show up to 50% of drinking induced blackouts are

genetically predetermined. Environmental risks include the previously mentioned drinking on an empty stomach,

or drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Blackouts are not the same as passing out after

drinking too much because the person with the blackout is still functioning and appears to be conscious. Many

researchers believe that blackouts are associated with a high tolerance to alcohol and indicate a predisposition

to alcohol dependency or alcoholism.

The only way to avoid blackouts completely is obviously not to drink. If a person does experience them they

should interpret them as a warning to stop drinking and take responsibility and get help for this serious and

potentially dangerous response to alcohol consumption.

Susan S. Woods, Ph.D.

700 McClellan St ♦ Schenectady, NY 12304 ♦ (518) 372-0166

825 Riverview Rd ♦ Rexford, NY  12148

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