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Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at
(847) 498-5611.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


What is an Alcohol Blackout?


D
ear Dr. Steve:

I am scared to death for my husband. His drinking is totally out of control. But most frightening of all is that he increasingly is unable to remember events that have occurred while he was drinking. At first I just figured he was lying to me, you know trying to cover up something. Like last month, my friend told me that my husband had been at a bar the night before and had made a total ass of himself. When I asked my husband about it later that night when he came home from work, he denied having been at the bar at all. A couple of weeks after that incident, a friend of my husband called to see if my husband was all right. It seems that my husband was driving with his friend the night before and my husband drove his car off the road head on into a fence. Again, I asked my husband about the accident when he came home from work that night and he denied knowing anything about it. Sure enough we went out and looked at the car and the front end had been damaged but he had no idea how it happened. But what has me most upset is that last week, he called me from work and told me he would be home in twenty minutes. The next time I heard from him was two days later. He called me from a hotel that he had been staying at in Atlanta. Mind you Atlanta is about 750 miles from where we live. He told me he had no idea how he got there or how long he had been there. What is going on here? I don’t know what to believe any more.

It’s possible that your husband is lying to you but let me suggest an alternative explanation for what your husband is experiencing. Your husband may be experiencing a phenomena known as alcoholic blackouts. Let me first explain what an alcoholic blackout is not before I explain to you what an alcoholic blackout is. It is common to mistakenly associate the word blackout with passout and therefore assume that an alcoholic blackout occurs when an individual drinks too much, passes out, and remains unconscious. But that is not the case. An alcoholic blackout does not occur when a person drinks too much, passes out, and remains unconscious for a period of time.

In fact, quite the opposite of passing out and remaining unconscious for a period of time occurs. During an alcoholic blackout an individual is awake and alert and able to perform complex motor skills. Although the individual is 100% functional during an alcoholic blackout, they’re unable to form or store new memories. Because the individual does not create and/or store memories when they’re in an alcoholic blackout, they’re unable to remember anything that occurred during that period of time in which they experienced an alcoholic black out.

That explains how your husband could drive to Atlanta and get a hotel room or drive his car off the road and crash into a fence, or go to a bar and make an ass out of himself without being able to remember any detail about those events. As witnessed by your husband’s unscheduled trip to Atlanta, blackouts can go on for days without the individual recalling the events of those days.

What causes blackouts? That’s much harder to say than whether or not they occur. The blood alcohol concentration level at which blackouts may occur varies from person to person. Variables such as existing brain damage or levels of tolerance may influence at what level of blood alcohol concentration blackouts occur. Though blackouts are usually associated with large quantities of alcohol consumed, there’s some evidence to suggest that blackouts are related more to how fast the blood alcohol concentration rises and falls than to how high the blood alcohol concentration rises. Indeed, sometimes a blackout may follow consumption of quite small amounts of alcohol.

The fact that your husband may be experiencing blackouts is significant for the following reason. In general, blackouts occur relatively late in the course of alcoholism. Blackouts are directly correlated with the severity and duration of the illness. It is critical that your husband be examined by a qualified healthcare provider in order to evaluate to what extent your husband may be suffering from the disease of alcoholism. Once an evaluation has been performed, you will have a better picture of your husband’s physical condition as well as the extent to which he may have a problem with alcoholism. Once those factors have been determined, a qualified healthcare provider can make the appropriate recommendations to treat your husband’s condition(s).


Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series—From Insanity to Serenity.

Pathfinder’s Checklist

1.) Alcoholic blackout does not mean that a person passes out and remains unconscious for a period of time.
2.) Alcoholic blackout is a phenomena in which an individual does not create and/or store memories when they’re in an alcoholic blackout and thus are unable to remember what they did or said during the period in which they were in an alcoholic blackout.
3.) Alcoholic blackouts occur at an advanced stage of the progression of the disease of alcoholism.
4.) A person who experiences an alcoholic blackout should take the matter seriously and immediately seek an evaluation by a qualified healthcare provider.

G.B.U.

Steve



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