A blackout can be defined as chemically induced amnesia. This is not the same thing as passing out (drinking to the point of loosing consciousness). Blackouts destroy the alcoholic’s ability to accurately remember what has happened during the effected drinking occasion.
During a blackout, an alcoholic may go on functioning as if he is aware of everything that’s going on. He thinks he will be able to remember what is happening. Actually, he remembers none of it ever again. These are real periods of amnesia. Blackouts, when they have become regular episodes in an alcoholic’s life, undeniably indicate that he has lost the ability to drink safely.
While blackouts are chemically induced periods of amnesia, equally troublesome are periods of forgetfulness caused by repression. Repression is psychologically induced. All people have this defense mechanism. It’s what, to some degree, keeps us sane. Normal and sane people exist and function because they do not have to relive tons of shameful or painful acts. A significant portion of such incidents are turned off or tuned out. Otherwise, the burden would be too great.
It is quite another matter, however, when shameful or painful acts are repeated again and again, growing worse with the passage of time, as often occurs with the alcoholic. When an alcoholic does remember, his past typically usually haunts him and causes tremendous depression. What he cannot recall keeps him deluded about his drinking problem.
It is obvious how disrupting and damaging blackouts and repression can be. They progressively cut the alcoholic off from the reality of his behavior. However, there is a third condition that distorts the alcoholic’s memory. It is euphoric recall. This is the greatest factor contributing to self-delusion.
Euphoric recall allows the alcoholic to remember his drinking episodes euphorically or happily with gross distortion. He believes he can remember everything in vivid detail, and that all is well. Of course, this will only serve to bury his antisocial or disruptive behavior. Perception is distorted. There is no ability to see and appreciate reality. No recognition or acceptance that he is in a downward spiral.
The alcoholic has two factors progressively working together to draw him out of touch with reality: his defense mechanisms and his distortion of memory. Either of these alone will seriously impair judgment. The time inevitably comes when it’s plain that the alcoholic cannot see that he is sick.
People who are chemically dependent on alcohol chase rainbows of euphoria, seemingly unaware of the rising costs to self and to others. He is eternally hopeful that the next time will be different. In the end, all resources are spent, such as health, finances, relationships, employment and self-worth. This is what is commonly referred to as hitting bottom. Unfortunately, the alcoholic will not reach out for help until there is absolutely nowhere else to go but down.