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What Happens When You ‘Black Out’ From Drinking?

By  Ashe Schow

The term “blackout” is being thrown around in regard to the allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a woman while they were both in high school. Time and time again, the phrase “black out” is used to describe basically whatever anyone wants it to mean, with a former drinking buddy of Kavanaugh’s claiming the nominee lied because he denied “the possibility that he ever blacked out from drinking.”

This former drinking buddy, Chad Ludington, provides no evidence that Kavanaugh ever blacked out — and I don’t mean physical evidence. He didn’t even say he and Kavanaugh had ever discussed not remembering the night before; he simply implied that because he had seen Kavanaugh really drunk, he must have blacked out.

Statements like this mean we all really need to learn what a “blackout” is and isn’t.

What It Is Not

Blacking out does not mean passing out. Someone can pass out from drinking too much, and they can pass out during or after a blackout, but these phrases are not synonymous.

A blackout is also not a term for being really drunk. People can be really drunk without blacking out. They can vomit without being blacked out. Someone appearing to be hammered might not be in a blackout state.

What It Is

A blackout has more in common with amnesia than a loss of consciousness. Someone who is experiencing a blackout is not forming memories, but may otherwise walk, talk, and act normally. They may appear to be hardly drunk at all, or they may be slurring their words and stumbling. Thus, no one can know for sure at the time whether someone is blacking out, as no one can see how another person’s brain is functioning.

Kavanaugh said during his senate testimony that he sometimes drank too much, but he never blacked out. He also said he has a weak stomach, and may have vomited from smaller amounts of alcohol than others. Vomiting removes some of the alcohol from someone’s system, which in turns sobers them up to some degree. If Kavanaugh really does have a weak stomach, that may have kept him from drinking to such excess that he blacked out.

There are also some people who appear incapable of blacking out. On several occasions, I have drunk what I would consider “too much” for me but was still able to remember the night before. The point is, we can’t know for sure whether Kavanaugh is telling the truth about not blacking out, as it is not something that can be easily witnessed — especially by other people who have been drinking.

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