Long-Term Impacts of Blacking Out from Alcohol

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Blacking Out From Alcohol Can Result In More Than Just A Bad Morning

There are empty bottles all around the living room, and you wake up either in an unfamiliar bed or not in bed at all. You have some parts of memories you can put together, but for the most part, it seems like last night is just a blur. Awkward mornings, a black eye with no known origin, money that has gone missing…

The only thing that comes to mind is, What happened last night?

Results From an Alcohol Blackout

An alcoholic blackout, also known as alcohol-induced amnesia, occurs when a person ingests a large amount of alcohol. It is more likely to happen while drinking very quickly on an empty stomach, and especially during binge drinking.

For men, binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks during two hours, and for women, four or more drinks. This style of drinking raises the blood alcohol level very quickly.

There are two distinct types of blackouts. Complete blackouts involve stretches of time for which the person has no memory at all. Partial blackouts involve spotty memories, with some recognition of what took place, particularly if discussed with others. Blackouts are common among social drinkers, and even among people who are not addicted to alcohol. They are common for this reason because often, if someone drinks more than they usually do in one sitting, they are more likely to experience a blackout.

In several studies, subjects reported that during blackouts, they had engaged in potentially dangerous, even violent activities. These activities include vandalism, reckless driving, sexual offenses, and more. These are the short-term risks—but according to the National Institute on Alcohol abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are serious long-term risks to this type of alcohol abuse that should persuade the individual to seek alcohol treatment.

Permanent Memory Impairments

Memory impairments can begin after only one or two drinks, but as the quantity increases, so does the strength of the memory impairment. Sometimes, alcohol can not only disrupt, but completely block the ability to form memories for the events that occurred while the person was intoxicated. The individual does not just pass out during a blackout. Rather, the experience is similar to amnesia; the person forgets what took place after drinking, and at some point, the brain cannot even form short-term memories, so the individual would never remember what happened during the blackout.

Brain Damage

Blackouts can occur during any of the stages of alcoholism, or as mentioned above, even to people who are not dependent on alcohol. However, those who have been drinking large quantities of alcohol over an extended period of time may develop changes in the brain. These changes can take place in various parts of the brain, and the long-term results are wide-ranging. Such changes can include insomnia, permanent struggles with memory, and even a reduction in your mental faculties.

Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome

Based on severe thiamine deficiency, this syndrome consists of two forms: Wernicke’s encephalopathy, and Korsakoff’s psychosis. The short-lived, acute Wernicke’s encephalopathy, includes mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves of the eyes, and trouble with muscle coordination. The long-lasting Korsakoff’s psychosis is a chronic, debilitating condition. The patients are forgetful, have difficulties with walking and coordination, and have trouble remembering information. For example, an hour after a long and detailed conversation, the person may not remember a single word, or even that the conversation took place. Such cases have been linked to consistent binge-drinking behaviors, including blackouts.

The Brain-Liver Connection

Heavy drinking is known to cause liver damage, but many people are not aware that liver cirrhosis can cause a severe, life-threatening disorder called hepatic encephalopathy. Excess amounts of ammonia and manganese, two harmful substances, can enter the brain after being produced by alcohol-damaged liver cells. The symptoms of this condition include disturbed sleep, mood and personality changes, anxiety, and depression. Cognitive effects may consist of shortened attention span, coordination issues, and in the worst cases, coma.

The thing about mental health is that the mind and body are parts of the same system. A problem in the liver affects how you make decisions just as much as your decisions affect the health of your liver. Your brain is a part of your body, after all. A deficiency or chronic condition in one part of your body is rarely isolated.

Treatment and Support

Fortunately, hope and help exist. Following alcohol detox, and after the withdrawal phase is complete, administering thiamine to the patient can restore the function of the cerebellum, which is responsible for movement and certain forms of learning and memory. It is especially useful for people in the early stages of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.

For hepatic encephalopathy, lowering the blood ammonia concentrations with medications and assistive devices such as “artificial livers” is helpful.

Liver transplants are increasingly successful for any of the severe cases of the conditions mentioned above, but it also helps not to engage in risk-related behaviors.

Alcohol abuse and mental illness are often linked. Therefore, investigating dual diagnosis, which treats both, is always valuable.

The best news about recovery from the long-term results of blackouts and related issues is the growing understanding of how brain cells regenerate during adulthood through a process called neurogenesis. Stem cells, which are cells that can divide indefinitely, renew themselves and produce a variety of cell types. The increasing research of brain stem cells is leading toward incredible improvement in treatment.

At Executive Recovery Center, we are proud to offer an alcohol rehab program that engages with the roots of your addiction and help prevent some of these long-lasting effects. Visit our Dual Diagnosis page to learn more about what programs we offer.

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