A blackout is a temporary condition that prevents short-term experiences from becoming logged into long-term memory.

A person who experiences a blackout may lose time. They may be unconscious for hours, or they may appear conscious and take action, then suddenly “return” to reality as their brains begin to store long-term memories again.

Women appear to be at higher risk of blackouts than men, but anyone with lower body weight, lower body mass index (BMI), lower water-to-fat ratio, slower metabolism, and certain hormonal factors may be at greater risk for blackouts regardless of gender.

Blackouts may be caused by the following:

  •  Seizures
  •  Fainting
  •  Hitting one’s head
  •  Low blood pressure
  •  Low blood sugar
  •  Some medications, including benzodiazepines
  •  Alcohol
  •  Oxygen restriction or loss

Can You Black Out From Abusing Xanax?

Some drugs, including benzodiazepines ranging from Xanax and Klonopin to Rohypnol, can lead to blackouts.

The mechanism in the brain that triggers a blackout may be similar to alcohol since benzodiazepines and alcohol both work on the gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. Both alcohol and benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, increase the bioavailability of the GABA neurotransmitter by binding to the GABA receptor sites, so more natural GABA is present to slow down communication between neurons. Slowed communication, at high levels, can mean that memories simply do not make it from short-term memory to long-term storage.

People who binge drink regularly are at greater risk of having blackouts, so people who take large doses of Xanax routinely to get high or feel relaxed may also be at greater risk of blacking out. However, with a prescription drug like Xanax, the experience of blacking out is not colloquially called a blackout. Instead, it is called anterograde amnesia.

Simply put, anterograde amnesia is a condition affecting the brain when the organ cannot retain new information very well or at all. It is a subset of amnesia in general, which involves memory loss.

A 2010 study published in Neurobiology found that seven out of 10 people with anterograde amnesia could learn enough to temporarily retain new information; however, with repetition, this information did not move into long-term memory due to “retroactive interference.” This may occur when new information interferes with the storage of old information, like when learning a new number changes one you just learned; however, it can also be caused by chemical interference, such as being intoxicated with a sedative drug like Xanax.

Blackouts and Alcohol

The most infamous drug associated with blackouts is alcohol.

Drinking too much can put people in a state where they continue to interact and make decisions — including to continue drinking, drive themselves home, engage in risky sexual activities, or perform other dangerous behaviors — but they do not recall these events.

The extent of a blackout can vary from person to person, and it can begin at slightly different levels of blood-alcohol concentration (BAC). Most people begin to black out when their BAC reaches 14 percent.

Types of Blackouts

There are two types of blackouts: complete and partial.

If you completely black out due to intoxication, you will not remember events when your brain was too intoxicated to retain those memories.

A partial blackout means you may have stored some of the memories while you were very intoxicated, but you do not recall them until someone or something reminds you.

Once the brain returns to normal memory productions, the individual will “wake up” from this state and resume normal activity.

Xanax Blackout: Mechanisms in the Brain

While alcohol broadly impacts the GABA receptors in the brain, benzodiazepines like Xanax are more targeted. They impact GABA-A receptors in particular. There are two subtypes of GABA-A receptors:

  • BZ-1, collected most densely in the cerebellum
  • BZ-2, most densely populating the hippocampus and cortex

Most studies involving the impact of benzodiazepines on GABA-A receptors have focused on BZ-2. Benzodiazepines with more hypnotic properties, which impact memory and allow the brain to slow enough to fall asleep, are not as frequently prescribed for anxiety. Xanax is believed to have fewer hypnotic properties compared to anxiolytic, or anxiety-reducing, properties, but this may not be true.

Memory is typically defined by:

  • Duration, in short-term and long-term spans
  • Contents, through explicit and implicit processes
  • Stages, like acquisition, consolidation, and retrieval

Previous medical studies have shown that benzodiazepines, including anti-anxiety ones like Xanax, have a greater impact on episodic memory, leading to long-term issues. However, more recent surveys have found that all benzodiazepines have a broader impact on retaining information of all kinds than previously believed. This may mean that acute intoxication from taking too much Xanax can lead to blackouts.

Some of the broader memory problems associated with taking Xanax or other benzodiazepine is that a mild level of stimulation, including feeling anxious, can improve cognitive performance.

Without enough neuronal firing, the brain simply does not keep information in short-term storage long enough to move it to long-term storage.

A girl pouring pink pills into her hand

There is also some association between increasing tolerance for benzodiazepines, leading one to take more of the drug, which increases the experience of anterograde amnesia. In one study, anecdotal reports note that those surveyed remembered what they did when they were on large doses of a benzodiazepine, but their judgment and inhibitions were lowered, so they got involved in risky behaviors or embarrassing situations and later felt ashamed after the drug’s effects wore off.

The survey continued that, unlike alcohol, the exact level and effect that a short-acting benzodiazepine would have on memory were subjective and unpredictable. Participants reported episodes of blacking out that lasted for a few seconds, minutes, hours, or even days. It was more predictable that survey participants had little to no recollection of the day after they initiated taking the drug.

The Dangers of Mixing Xanax and Alcohol

The Dangers of Mixing Xanax and Alcohol

Mixing Xanax and alcohol is one of the most deadly combinations in existence. Mixing Xanax and alcohol, which can lead to blackouts, are common and something you should never do. You might be asking yourself, what are the inherent dangers of mixing Xanax and alcohol? Well, drug overdose deaths have soared throughout the United States and have been worsened by the global pandemic. Many people have been locked up at home, relying on drugs like Xanax to take the edge off their anxiety. In many cases, individuals have been mixing the two drugs to potentiate the effects.

Since benzodiazepines and alcohol are addictive, they’re dangerous to continue abusing. As you build up a tolerance to both drugs, you’ll need more and more to reach the desired effect. The result? Consuming high amounts of both drugs can be the quickest path to a fatal overdose. Experts agree that of all the drug combos, this is among the most deadly. Even worse, Xanax amnesia is a serious issue that causes you to lose your memory. When this occurs, you can commit crimes and take part in dangerous acts without any memory of the incident. 

When you combine these two potent depressant drugs, you’re also at risk of various side effects. Unfortunately, some of these can be fatal, which is why you should never use these two drugs together. Despite how responsible you are with drinking and using Xanax as prescribed, it’s vital to be aware of the dangers.  

Once they’re in your system, you might wonder how to sober up from Xanax or alcohol. However, you can’t. Once you’re committed, you must ride it out and hope for the best. If you notice your symptoms deteriorate, it could indicate you need professional medical attention. The reason these are dangerous to mix is because of how alcohol and Xanax work on the GABA receptors in your brain. Xanax treats anxiety, and in some cases, alcohol withdrawal. The objective is to slow down the central nervous system and produce a calming effect. Alcohol has a similar effect, which is why there are many warnings against mixing prescription drugs and alcohol. 

Xanax will intensify the symptoms of alcohol and vice versa. When used together, the result is an even more potent option than if you used them alone. It can result in dangerous accidents, excessive sedation, cardiac issues, respiratory depression, and loss of consciousness. If you witness that you or someone else has become increasingly drowsy, weak, or clumsy after mixing these drugs, make sure to monitor their breathing and that they’re conscious to avoid unintentional death. 

Can You Overdose on Xanax?

Can You Overdose on Xanax?

The short answer: yes, you can overdose on Xanax. Xanax is potent enough that you can overdose on it without the presence of alcohol in your system. When you take higher doses of the prescription benzodiazepine, you’re at risk of a fatal overdose. When you combine it with alcohol, which is another central nervous system depressant, you might experience respiratory depression or coma. If you believe you’ve witnessed a Xanax overdose, you must immediately call 911. Drug overdoses often result in fatalities. You should never feel fear when it comes to seeking help. Please contact emergency services right away. 

If possible, please give the 911 operator your address, description of the location, what drugs you believe were ingested, how much of them were taken, and follow their direction. If the individual is vomiting, you must roll them onto their side to prevent them from drowning in their own vomit.

Get Help If You Abuse Xanax

Abusing Xanax can be as risky for the brain as abusing alcohol, so it is important to get evidence-based treatment.

Withdrawal symptoms associated with Xanax can be dangerous, so working with medical professionals to taper or ease these symptoms is important. Then, entering a rehabilitation program focused on therapy will help to change behaviors around drugs and alcohol.

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