What Is an Alcohol Brownout?


Excessive alcohol consumption can result in many negative consequences. Bad decisions that are made while intoxicated typically involve engaging in risky behavior such as drunk driving and unsafe sex. Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, memory of these events may be incomplete or non-existent. Similar to an electrical brownout, an alcohol brownout results in a reduction in resources. Specifically, an alcohol brownout is impairment in memory due to excessive alcohol consumption during which only vague memories are able to be formed.

Attention and Memory

Alcohol is a depressant. It slows down the mind and impairs attention as well as memory. When attention is impaired, individuals are more prone to have accidents that would otherwise be avoidable. Memory impairment may affect an individual's ability to find an item such as keys or remember a simple memory such as a phone number. An alcohol brownout is considered a moderate impairment of memory since the memories are able to be recalled, albeit with some difficulty.

The Day After

The more alcohol consumed, the more damage is done to one's ability to form new memories. As such, events that occurred during a night of drinking may not be immediately recalled the next day. Sometimes it is not until another person discusses what happened the night before that some memories are triggered. Instances such as these are alcohol brownouts. During an alcohol brownout, memories that were formed are difficult to recall without help. Reminders of what happened help to elicit these memories.


Amnesia, or memory loss, is a serious risk for heavy drinkers. Events that cannot be recalled even after they are described to someone may be more than just memory loss. This is a significant impairment known as a blackout. As opposed to brownouts, memories are not formed during blackouts. Intoxicated individuals may have no recollection of an event since alcohol impaired their ability to form new memories. Therefore, they are unable to recall what happened because it was not stored in their memory.

Blood Alcohol Content

The severity of one's memory impairment is affected by one's blood alcohol content (BAC). Having a few drinks over the course of an hour will yield a higher blood alcohol level than if the same number of drinks were consumed over several hours. Higher blood alcohol levels are associated with higher levels of impairment. A BAC above .08 percent is considered legal impairment in the United States. BAC below .15 percent suggests moderate impairment and may include brownouts. BAC over .15 percent can result in significant impairment such as blackouts.

Controlled Drinking

Memory impairments in the form of brownouts or blackouts occur the day after having too much to drink. However, it is possible to control one's drinking to avoid significant impairment of any kind. Keeping track of the number of drinks is important. A glass of wine, a bottle of beer or one mixed drink an hour will only increase BAC slightly. Drinking on an empty stomach and at a rapid pace will make one's BAC increase quickly. Although not as severe, episodes of brownouts should be taken seriously. Excessive alcohol consumption over time can lead to permanent impairment of memory.

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