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Blackouts, Alcohol Poisoning and Hangovers: What you Need to Know

alcohol poisoning, hangovers and blackouts
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For many travelers, drinking is something of a recreational activity. There are some people who actually plan their trips around festivals and parties. Nightlife options weigh heavily for many.

As fun as a big night out can be, it can also put you in bed the next day, erase some of your memories and produce a truly awful headache. In this post, we will talk about why some of these things happen and what you can do prevent or mitigate them.

Blackouts

A blackout is exactly what it sounds like. It is a dark period in your memory. Despite the fact that you were conscious and awake during the time of blackout, you don’t remember a thing, or you can only remember bits and pieces.

Blackouts are still a relative mystery in the science and medicine world, but a few things are known:

Alcohol can disrupt the brain’s formation of long-term memories.

During a blackout, memories will last for an approximate maximum of two minutes.

Blackouts are most likely caused by the speed of someone’s drinking, not the overall amount consumed. The faster you drink, the more likely it is that you will experience a blackout. Other contributing factors: how much food you have eaten (drinking on an empty stomach will increase your chances of a blackout) and how tired you are.

Blackouts can last for varying amounts of time

Blackouts can be caused by a relatively small amount of alcohol if the alcohol is consumed fast enough.

Want to avoid a blackout?

Drink slowly and make sure there is some food in your stomach. Also, it helps if you are not exhausted (or jet lagged) when you drink.

Alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a severe condition in which a drinker has become acutely intoxicated. It is potentially fatal. When you drink, your faculties become progressively more impaired. Your vision and speech are affected early on. Later, your cerebellum is affected, causing problems with reflexes and balance.

The endgame involves your medulla. Your medulla controls basic functions that you need to survive. You know, your breathing, heartbeat and all of that stuff. Severe alcohol poisoning can affect your medulla and this is where the condition can become fatal.

Alcohol poisoning typically produces shallow and slow breathing and a loss of consciousness. There is a risk of vomiting to death depending on how the affected person is positioned. Seizures are also a possibility. Alcohol poisoning is a severe condition that often requires medical attention.

Want to avoid alcohol poisoning?

Pace yourself and don’t drink too much. Mix in glasses of water with your alcoholic drinks and make sure you have a bit of food in your stomach. The easiest way to get alcohol poisoning is to drink a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. To prevent it, do the opposite.

Hangovers

Much more common than alcohol poisoning is the hangover, a non-fatal, but indisputably miserable condition. Hangovers are caused by some of the less nice features of alcohol. To start with, alcohol increases urine production and thus, dehydrates you. You lose vital electrolytes in addition to fluid. Alcohol also disrupts your sleep pattern, resulting in fatigue the next day.

If that wasn’t enough, it also widens your blood vessels (contributing to headaches), it can limit glucose production (resulting in more fatigue), and it can irritate the stomach lining and intestines. Want more? Withdrawal symptoms can also be experienced. As alcohol leaves the body, the central nervous systems, which was depressed because of the alcohol, suddenly goes into overdrive. This can cause tremors and a rapid heart beat.

Want to prevent a hangover?

Drink less and add more water to your partying. Don’t mix different kinds of alcohol and try to keep it simple. Drinks with more sugars in them will further complicate your hangover. Also, there is evidence that light liquors like vodka are better than dark ones like whisky. This is because dark liquors have higher concentrations of congeners, which can contribute to your hangover. Finally, drinks with a lower concentration of alcohol are easier for your body to process.

Want to cure a hangover?

There are a lot of myths about hangover cures. You can’t “sweat out” the alcohol. Drinking an alcoholic beverage (“hair of the dog”) will not help. Nor will a big plate of greasy food. While there is no silver bullet, your best bet is plenty of water and rest. Hungry? Eat light, simple meals. Toast or crackers will never serve you better. Hangovers provide a clear example of the importance of prevention. Manage your drinking the night before and you won’t have to worry about curing your hangover.

Feel free to share any stories, tips or advice that you may have in the comments below.

Photo credit: Flickr user henke and Riude

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{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Micheal Hailey June 4, 2012, 3:19 pm

    Nice post — sometimes I forget some of the lessons here. It can be hard to pace oneself when Gin & Juice is bumpin’ and I’ve got a few in me.

  • marlys June 5, 2012, 5:38 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever been so drunk, I didn’t know what I was doing (I’m no control freak for nothing) That means, I’ve never blacked out because of too much drink. That would really be scary.

    • phil June 6, 2012, 8:33 am

      Marlys,
      Hopefully it stays that way for you!

  • Ian [EagerExistence] June 8, 2012, 3:46 am

    A big greasy meal may not work, but it is what the body craves… I’m absolutely useless on hangover days. Usually just hang about the hostel watching old travel movies.

  • Katja June 10, 2012, 6:57 am

    When you’re feeling as sick as a dog the morning after, the best hangover cure is red coke and bananas. The coke gives you sugar, and the banana potassium, both of which have been lost along with fluids as mentioned in the article. I’ve also heard it said that Berocca will help, although I haven’t tried it.

  • phil December 2, 2013, 6:12 am

    Flat cola helps, just crack it open and repeatedly shake it release the fizz until it goes flat…I read somewhere why it helps but can’t recall, but it does…
    Saltine crackers, sprite and Gatorade also help…

    If you can’t keep anything including water down to the point where you’ve gone passed clear vomit & dry heaves to where it’s dark brown…that is blood from your stomach, go get an IV drip, a few bags with some antinausea meds you’ll be right as rain, ready for round two…

  • tayla July 9, 2014, 4:29 pm

    I usually drink alot on nights i do drink, last night I only had a bottle of wine and I have woken up with a tremendous headache and just feel awful. why is it that one night I can drink alot and wake up feeling fine and another drink not so much and wake up feeling awful.

    • phil July 11, 2014, 6:13 am

      A lot may depend on what you are drinking. Wine is notorious for causing hangovers in part because of the high sugar content. Try to take note of what you are drinking. Also, are you hydrating at the same time ?

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