Blackouts are chemically induced periods of amnesia. They are common in alcoholism. In a blackout a person walks, talks, goes about their business, but lacks memory of that time later. Unless something happens to make the alcoholic aware that there is a missing block of time, there will be no knowledge that the blackout occurred at all. Recall of the blacked out events never returns.

Fear & Confusion

Blackouts are not passing out or losing consciousness. Many alcoholics don’t even seem drunk in a blackout. This phenomenon is a source of confusion, anger, pain, and fear for both the alcoholic and others. There are reports of alcoholics taking trips, flying airplanes, and even doing surgery in a blackout. Commonly, blackouts last for a few minutes or a couple of hours, but they can last for days.


The exact mechanism of blackouts has not been determined. Some think the drug interferes with the natural transfer of the immediate past events from short-term to long-term memory. In the blackout, you remember events of the past several minutes, but that memory is not being transferred to long-term memory.

There is no indication that the blackout is taking place, so you never know it unless it lasts a long time or something requires you to try to remember it. You may never know you have had a blackout until someone points out a missed appointment, or describes behavior you don’t remember.

Symptom of Alcoholism?

Many consider blackouts to be a sure sign of alcoholism. Varying amounts of alcohol can produce them. Alcoholics may be afraid, defensive, or accusatory about events surrounding a blackout. Even when faced with the awareness that a blackout has occurred, there is so much fear that the memory of the confrontation may itself be repressed.

Other Drugs

Blackouts can occur with drugs other than alcohol. Compulsive eaters sometimes report blackout-like states after a heavy binge, especially on high-sugar, high-fat foods. '

Euphoric Recall

Euphoric recall is a distortion of memory that occurs in alcoholism and other addictions. You remember things, but not accurately. Alcohol, other drugs, and possibly even internal neurotransmitter imbalances cause you to feel uninhibited. When the emotions are so affected, you can get the giggles or have crying spells. You may remember feeling good without remembering the embarrassment or other negative effects of the situation. Euphoric recall contributes to the delusional system of addiction.


Repression is psychologically induced forgetting of unpleasant events or memories. The memory of the pain and shame of addictive behavior can be so great that the conscious mind pushes it out of awareness. It is often a healthy defense to make life bearable, but in addiction it can easily perpetuate the disease. These memories can be triggered by certain stimuli.

Abuse & Incest

Children who are victims of abuse or incest may use repression to survive. The repressed fear and anger, lack of trust, and denial of feelings can interfere with their spontaneity and inhibit relationships. Self-searching, experiential therapy, or o;her stimuli or images may elicit these memories. When memories start to return, you need a safe, supportive environment to work through these memories and feelings.

Blackouts, see also: Addiction, Alcohol, Alcoholism, Bingeing, Biochemistry, Drugs, Flashbacks, Neurotransmitters, Panic attacks, Physical aspects, Progression, Sugar, Tolerance, Unmanageability.

Updated 7 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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