6 Scientific Facts You Didn’t Know About Your Drunken Blackout
If you’ve ever blacked out from drinking too much before, you’ve probably wondered what was going on in that brain of yours. As Amy Schumer once pointed out, nothing good ever happens during a blackout.
And you’ve probably developed your own theories about the inner workings of the drunken blackout. You might swear that it happens to you so much faster when you drink tequila. You remember your BFF solemnly warning you over dining hall breakfast sophomore year of college that once you black out the first time, it becomes so much easier to do it again.
But, what actually causes your brain and body to “black out”? You may joke to yourself that your brain shuts off because you’re better off not remembering the texts you sent to your ex or the shit you said to the hot bartender, but there’s actually science behind your forgotten night.
On this lovely Friday morning (a.k.a. the calm before the storm), we decided to research how blacking out occurs and what you can do to stop it from happening.
1. You’re Not Destroying Your Brain Cells
Earlier hypotheses about blacking out assumed that when you black out, you are destroying brain cells. However, research done in 2011 disproved those theories and came to the conclusion that blackouts occur because your nerve cells are weakened and your brain can’t communicate properly with your body.
“The effect of alcohol on the brain is sedative, because it’s poisonous to our cells,” says Dr. Mader, a neurologist at Vienna’s Anton-Proksch Institute “When you drink in excess, brain cells stop communicating as fast and precisely with one another.”
This still doesn’t mean that blacking out is healthy. The shit you do while blacked out can be a lot worse than what’s going on inside your body.
2. You’re Not Alone
When you meet someone (perhaps an innocent freshman) who says they’ve never blacked out, it’s like finding a baby deer or a virgin at a BDSM convention. You may think that blacking out is so common to your and your friends because you’re all a wild bunch, but that’s not the case.
In fact, according to a study done on teens in England, 90% of teens had blacked out at least once by the time they reached the age of 19. Half of them had blacked out multiple times.
Isn’t that comforting? The next time you wake up next to a stranger or a toilet seat, just remember that we’ve (almost) all been there before.
3. Not Eating Before Going Out Is Still a Bad Idea
Whether they’re looking to avoid extra calories or avoid paying extra cash, it seems that many girls love to “forget” to indulge in a meal before a night out. Unsurprisingly, skipping dinner is a one way ticket to blackout city, population you. In fact, women tend to black out more than men, partially due to their lower body weight.
While you may go out with the intention of drinking less, you probably end up drinking close to the same amount and blacking out way faster because the alcohol has nothing in your stomach to absorb it, plus you probably order a large pizza in your blackout state. You don’t have to go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, but at least eat something before heading out for the night.
4. You Can Be More Prone To Blackouts Genetically
Although you may think that you’ve amped up your tolerance since freshman year of college, or that you’ve started blacking out way more since you lost ten pounds last summer, another factor that influences your alcohol tolerance is your family history.
“More than 50% of [alcohol tolerance] is genetically determined,” warns Dr. Mader. “Additionally, if a mother drinks during pregnancy, the child will have a higher susceptibility for blackouts.”
5. Your Drinking Speed is Key
It’s not always how much you drink, but how quickly you drink. You know those nights where you swore you only had four shots but you wake up on your best friend’s kitchen table super confused? It’s probably because you drank too quickly, maybe even on an empty stomach.
“A person who slams three drinks in a row is more likely to have a blackout than somebody who acquires twice their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over a longer time,” says Mark Rose, licensed psychologist and addiction researcher.
As you’ve probably heard before, doctors recommend alternating alcoholic beverages with water (or another non-alcoholic beverage) to slow your consumption.
6. There’s a Scientific Name For Blackouts and Brown-outs
For many avid drinkers, brown outs are really no big deal. It’s simply a “oh shit, kind of don’t remember having an hour long conversation with the bathroom attendant, but at least I remember getting home” type of thing. It’s the times where it all goes black that you’re really concerned about what went down the night before.
The difference between blackouts and brownouts depend on how much your receptors are disrupted. Therefore, the scientific name for a brown out is “fragmentary” and a blackout is “en bloc.”
You’ll probably keep blacking out anyway, because you’re not a quitter. But hey, at least you know the facts.