11/18/2013

Blackouts are not normal

Blackouts

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BLACKOUTS

What is a ‘blackout’?

  • A blackout is an “alcohol-induced brain dysfunction”
  • A blackout occurs when a person consumes enough alcohol that it interferes with brain function and memory formation.  “Alcohol in sufficient quantities prevents the NMDA receptors in the hippocampus from reacting to the glutamate neurotransmitter, thus blocking formation of memory.” (Sweeney, 2004, p. 67)
   

In other words…

  • When blacked out, a person’s working or short-term memory is broken.  The person cannot form any short-term or working memory, or any other kind of memory for that matter.  
  • Because one cannot form memory, they are living in the “precise present”.  What one sees, hears or feels a moment, a minute or five minutes ago is unknown to them. 
  • One cannot remember what is immediately happening, nor make use of past knowledge to alter his or her conduct. 
  • One is out of control, wholly impulsive.  Without knowledge of recent events, there is no capacity for rational thought.  Such people are a menace to themselves and others.  (Sweeney, 2004)

A Blacked-Out Person: A Scary Reality

People in a blackout do not forget what happened, as widely believed.  The truth is, they will never remember, because alcohol blocked their ability to form memory.  People who are blacked out can remember things from their distant past, but because they cannot form short-term memory, they can’t remember anything that happened a minute ago.  Without short-term memory formation, they CANNOT:
  • learn
  • think
  • plan
  • form intent
  • consider consequences
  • make a decision
     

The reality is:                                    

  • They have blacked out.
  • They are unconscious.
  • They do not know where they are, what they are doing, even what time it is. 
  • They are at risk to “act out of character” and do something regrettable.
  • They could have had sex with the stranger lying in bed next to them, run up huge bills on their credit cards, gambled away life savings, said unforgivable things to people they care about, gotten into fights, driven drunk or killed innocent people.
  • They will never remember any of it.
  • Yet… their pre-blackout memory remains intact, enabling them to walk, talk, drive, travel, quarrel, get into fights, wield a knife or hammer—and never know it.  They are “walking, talking, unconscious and lethal”.

Who Can Experience a Blackout?

  • Anyone who drinks alcohol—both non-alcoholics and alcoholics.
  • A person who gets drunk once in his or her lifetime may experience a blackout.
  • Healthy drinkers (who use occasionally, socially, and/or moderately) are extremely frightened by the occurrence of a blackout and will reevaluate his or her alcohol use patterns.
  • Problem drinkers who continue unhealthy drinking behavior will increase their tolerance and likely experience more blackouts—which is a sign of Early Stage Alcoholism.
  • Frequent blackouts are experienced by individuals who have developed higher tolerance, drink until drunk and often lose control, pass out, and/or crave alcohol.  These individuals are most likely early to middle stage alcoholics.

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