Over the past month there has been a lot of publicity about the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in the USA. The controversy concerning his appointment was due to an allegation of sexual assault in the early 1980s when he and his alleged victim were in high school. Brett Kavanaugh has denied the incident took place and has acknowledged that at that time he was a drinker. Memories of all those who might have witnessed his innocence or what exactly took place seem equally confused or lacking. It is clear that this could have been due to those present drinking. Brett Kavanaugh himself has avoided answering questions about whether or not he had ever experienced alcoholic blackouts.

Alcoholic blackouts are nothing to do with drinking to the point of ‘passing out’ into unconsciousness or a deep sleep. A person who has a blackout is at the time fully conscious and can appear to be fully functioning or ‘normal’. They can have a conversation, drive (even though they should not), carry out everyday activities – or demonstrate less pleasant aspects of their personality, having arguments, fighting, having an accident etc.

You do not have to be alcohol dependent or an alcoholic to experience a blackout. A blackout can occur when a ‘spike’ in your blood alcohol level interferes with your encoding of memories. However, if you experience repeated blackouts, you are at higher risk of becoming alcohol dependent. There is total blackout – where we have no recall of anything for a period of time – and fragmentary blackout – in which we remember bits and pieces but have to be reminded or told about the missing elements.

Alcohol releases inhibitions and that is one of the reasons why people like to drink. A drink or two helps us to relax and in low irregular doses alcohol is relatively harmless. However, if our inhibitions are too far removed then we can say or do things which we would not if sober. People can become overly aggressive, get into fights etc and cause problems which take considerably longer to resolve than the drinking session which caused them.

Alcohol blackouts are serious. They occur when alcohol blocks short term or working memory from forming in the brain. It is not that we forget at a later stage what has reached our memory in the brain. The fact is that the memories have not ever got to the brain in the first place. This is serious.

In blackout we can put ourselves at serious risk. People in blackout often feel ashamed of their lack of recall of events. These events can include hurtful words, domestic violence, unprotected sex, assault, robbery and murder. It is more than frightening to be told you have done something of which you have no recollection – but you remain responsible. Even forgetting promises made, conversations at work etc may not be dangerous but has consequences. Blackouts are devastating for victims, families and society.

Blackouts are not normal. Most people never black out and even doing so once is abnormal. If you have a blackout, it is a warning that others may occur and you are at risk of harming yourself or other people. Just because so far nothing bad has happened in blackout does not mean it never will. If you have experienced black outs from drinking you may have an alcohol addiction and should visit an alcohol rehab clinic such as The Haynes Clinic.

If you feel you need support or advice about your experience of blackout or of drinking more generally please call us on 01462 851414.