A Look at Bipolar and Alcohol Blackouts

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Researchers and medical professionals have known for some time now that there are many connections between substance use and mental health. However, alcohol and bipolar disorder have an interesting effect in common: blackouts. In recognition of World Bipolar Day on March 30th, our team would like to use our expertise to bring awareness to bipolar blackouts and the similarities and differences compared to the more commonly known alcohol blackout.

What are blackouts?

A blackout is when an individual cannot recall events from a specific period of time and can be categorized into 2 types of events. A complete blackout, or en bloc, is when the individual cannot recall any memories from the period of time in question. Partial blackouts are when partial memories from the period of time can be recalled. The scientific name for a partial blackout is fragmentary-memory loss, the street name for this is a “brownout”.

Blackouts can because by consumption of a toxic substance (ie: alcohol) or by an extremely emotional episode (ie: bipolar, stress, anger).

Bipolar Blackouts

A widely recognized mental health disorder, Bipolar Disorder has two different types of diagnosis: bipolar 1 and bipolar 2. Bipolar type 1 is characterized by polarizing episodes of depression and mania that present in a clear pattern. Bipolar 2 is characterized by more mild manic episodes alternating with periods of extreme depression. People diagnosed with bipolar 1 are more likely to experience what is referred to as a bipolar blackout. Have you ever heard of someone getting so angry that they “blackout” and don’t remember their actions? This is similar to what happens during a bipolar blackout. During a manic episode, an individual’s emotions become so intense that they may do or say things that their conscious mind is unable to recall once they come out of the episode.

Alcohol Blackouts

In 2018, approximately 7% of adults in the United States reported heavy drinking which is defined as drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. It is also the behavior that triggers alcohol blackouts (also known as alcohol-induced amnesia). When the body consumes too great an amount of alcohol and it blocks the brain receptors associated with memory. A person experiencing an alcohol blackout isn’t unconscious (yet), but they probably won’t remember much the next day.

Dual Diagnosis: Bipolar & Alcohol Use Disorder

What about when someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder also abuses alcohol? Well, this isn’t super uncommon. In fact, approximately 28% of people with bipolar disorder also have alcohol dependence. When diagnosed with bipolar and an alcohol use disorder, it is referred to as a dual diagnosis. Drinking can exacerbate the symptoms of bipolar disorder because alcohol negatively affects mental and physical health in the long and short term. It is important that someone who is struggling with alcohol and bipolar disorders gets help from a dual diagnosis treatment program equipped to help manage and treat both conditions. Treating co-occurring disorders can minimize the risk of blackouts and give the patient their best chance at leading a happy, productive life.

Sources: 

https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/103-108.htm

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/October-2020/What-People-Get-Wrong-About-Bipolar-Disorder

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