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What happens during a blackout?

Americans don't usually hear discussions about what it means to pass out versus black out from alcohol during Supreme Court confirmation hearings. However, that subject was addressed during the recent Senate confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh as senators questioned him about his youthful drinking.

Many people don't know what a blackout is, and those who have gotten very drunk at one or more points in their life probably couldn't state definitively whether they've ever had a blackout or "merely" passed out.

When you pass out, you lose consciousness. However, a person can black out and remain conscious. They may be moving and speaking. Those around them may not realize that they're in a blackout. However, a person may have no memory of what occurred during the blackout or only snippets of memory from that period. As one psychologist explains, "The brain itself is not creating memories." However, despite that, "[a] person in a blackout is conscious and interacting with their environment."

Even among heavy drinkers, some people are more prone to blackouts than others. Generally, women are more likely than men to black out because alcohol has a greater impact on their bodies. People are more likely to black out if they're drinking on an empty stomach and/or consuming alcohol quickly, as is often the case with binge drinking. Those with a family history of alcohol issues are more likely to suffer blackouts than others, so there may be a genetic component.

There's no set blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at which people suffer blackouts. Generally, they happen when someone is well over the legal limit for driving. However, some people have been known to black out with just a .06 percent BAC.

People can and unfortunately do drive during blackouts. However, it's certainly not a legal defense to a DUI charge (or any other crime) that you weren't aware of what you were doing. If you or a loved one is facing DUI charges, it's essential to seek experienced legal guidance.