Alcoholic Blackouts vs. Alcoholic Passouts

As my eyes slowly focused on the moving window, I realized that it was the rocking of the boat that was causing the movement, not my hangover. My sense of relief was short-lived; I tried to recall the night before, and couldn’t. I remembered the guests that we had invited for dinner coming down the stairs into the boat’s galley. What else, what else? But no matter how hard I focused, absolutely nothing else would come to mind. Terror slowly began to creep through my body like strangling vines. What had I done? What had I said? Had I embarrassed my husband? Was he angry or disgusted with me? Oh God. Shame flooded me, and I could feel my heart beating in my head.

I wanted my husband to wake up so that I could scan his face for clues. I desperately wanted to know about the night before, but didn’t have the courage to ask him directly—nor could I admit that I couldn’t remember. No, I would just have to fish for clues.

When his eyes opened and met my own, he smiled that sweet smile that he had given me every single morning for the ten years we had been together. Even when he was mad at me, the anger came after the smile. Oh, how I hoped that I hadn’t done anything too offensive. It seemed that when I drank alcohol, every defect I possessed spewed forth, dragging me behind. I often became everything that I never wanted to be: un-ladylike, self-centered, angry, deceitful, untrustworthy, and unreliable.

I held my breath as my husband began talking about the fun things we were going to do that day, the last day of our vacation in the Bahamas. While I only half-listened, he planned our day of snorkeling. Apparently, we had also agreed to meet our dinner guests from the night before for lunch.

Coyly, I asked, “How did you think dinner went last night?”

“Great! Boy, were you funny,” he replied.

As my breathing eased, I said, “Really? Did I say anything stupid?”

“Nope, you were just fun,” he said as he reached for his bathing suit.

Fun and funny are two words friends would rarely use to describe me, as I tend toward the serious side. This would be a perfect example of the “personality change” that is common among people that have a drinking problem. But I digress.

As my husband headed for the galley to make coffee, I rolled over and said to myself, “That’s it, I am done. I will never take another drink as long as I live.”

What happened to me that night is called a blackout—something that is not to be confused with passing out. Recovery Guy on HubPages describe blackouts this way:

“What is an alcohol blackout? This is not the same thing as passing out when you have had too much to drink. Passing out very much resembles sleeping. No, an alcoholic blackout is when a person has had a lot to drink and they go into this state of mind where they can no longer remember anything that they are doing, but they are still moving around, conversing with people, and possibly causing all sorts of problems.

Normally the human brain has the ability to keep recording whatever is happening in your life….whether you are hearing things, seeing things, tasting things….it all goes on the record. You might not remember every little detail but your brain actually has it all locked in there. Technically, you could bring these hidden memories out with hypnosis if you had to.”

Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, says:

“A blackout is a phenomenon caused by the intake of alcohol or other substance in which long term memory creation is impaired or there is a complete inability to recall the past. Blackouts are frequently described as having effects similar to that of anterograde amnesia, in which the subject cannot create memories after the event that caused amnesia. ‘Blacking out’ is not to be confused with the mutually exclusive act of ‘passing out‘, which means loss of consciousness. Research on alcohol blackouts was begun by E. M. Jellinek in the 1940s. Using data from a survey of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) members, he came to believe that blackouts would be a good predictor of alcoholism. However, there are conflicting views as to whether this is true.[1] The negative psychological effects of an alcohol related blackout are often worsened by those who suffer from anxiety disorders.

Blackouts can generally be divided into 2 categories, ‘en bloc’ blackouts and ‘fragmentary’ blackouts. En bloc blackouts are classified by the inability to later recall any memories from the intoxication period, even when prompted. These blackouts are characterized also by the ability to easily recall things that have occurred within the last 2 minutes, yet inability to recall anything prior to this period. As such, a person experiencing an en bloc blackout may not appear to be doing so, as they can carry on conversations or even manage to accomplish difficult feats. It is difficult to determine the end of this type of blackout as sleep typically occurs before they end.[5] Fragmentary blackouts are characterized by the ability to recall certain events from an intoxicated period, yet be unaware that other memories are missing until reminded of the existence of these ‘gaps’ in memory. Research indicates that such fragmentary blackouts, also known as brownouts, are far more common than en bloc blackouts.”

That night occurred twenty-eight years ago this month, and I have not touched a drop of alcohol since. Sober, I have had the opportunity to be everything I have ever wanted to be: considerate, loving, honest, trustworthy, reliable, and a lady. Sobriety rocks!









Recovery Guy on HubPages

Photo of Milo and Dawn 1997



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  1. So glad you have the same sobriety birthday as mine. What a fabulous picture of you and
    Mike, wow you guys are HOT! I had blackouts too and am pretty sure that qualified me as
    a real alcoholic. We did what?

    Missed you on Monday but we had 11 so come home soon and have fun you remember! xxxooo

    • Thanks Ridelle,

      I do think my husband is hot. Lol

      I am having a ball. We are off to Hana today. I too am so glad that I will remember it all.

      Love ya, dawn

  2. Hi Dawn! This is Mike Witcher’s daughter. I just wanted to tell you how much I can relate to this! Oh the countless mornings I awoke to such humiliation, shame and regret! Only to do it all over again the next weekend! I am happily sober now and LOVE reading your blogs. I also wanted to tell you that you and Dr. Novotny have been in my thoughts and prayers. I know you must miss Ann so much, I always had fond memories of her. Thank you for writing these blogs, it really helps my sobriety. Love, Bethany Cash

    • Hi, Bethany,

      I am delighted to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by. Oh yes, the blessing of sobriety.

      Warmly, dawn

  3. Ron Kelley says:


    I really like how you can illustrate your points with stories of “Been There, Done That.” Good story. Thank you.


  4. Hi Dawn, glad you were able to overcome your problem. These blackout events are exactly what are occurring with my oldest son right now. He has had at least 3 that I know of since 2007 and the most recent was last night. (He’s 25 years old btw) I’m not sure what or where to go to get him treatment. From what I’m reading he is not necessarily an alcoholic but still has a problem when he drinks hard liquor. Any advise on where or what type of treatment to seek out would be appreciated……………..Thanks in advance, Bob

    • Hi Bob,

      Great question! Not so easy to answer.

      It’s funny how most of us have a certain image of what an alcoholic is or isn’t. I say that I’m an alcoholic because I can’t predict with 100% accuracy what my behavior will be when I take that first drink. Sometimes, like many people, I acted like a responsible adult and simply enjoyed the evening. Other times…………..not so enjoyable−like those times that I had a blackout. Individuals who are not allergic to alcohol, rarely, if ever, have blackouts as a reaction to alcohol.

      If your son was allergic to apple juice, would he continue to drink it hoping that he wouldn’t have a reaction the next time? No? From what you say, he has an allergic reaction to alcohol. It is now up to him how far he wants to push his allergic reaction.

      If your son wants help, he could get an evaluation from any reputable chemical dependency agency in your community, he could go to local AA meetings or he could just not drink since drinking is causing him problems of unpredictability.

      Hope this is helpful. Dawn

  5. Dawn, thank you for sharing so honestly. You crack me up and have a way of writing it that makes all those hopeless mornings come alive again and makes me want one more day of sobriety. My cousin got kicked out of treatment last night….the saga continues and I just keep taking her to God and letting go, taking her to God and letting go….as you have taught me.

    I too am grateful that most days I am proud of my behavior today and when I am not I have the tools to clean it up quickly. Hugs, T

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