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Forum Name: Neurology Topics

Question: Black-out if woken up after drinking alcohol


 kr8623131 - Sat Dec 27, 2008 1:07 am

Hi,

My husband is 23 years old. If he drinks alcohol (even an amount that doesn't get him drunk), falls asleep, and then gets woken up, he will experience a "blackout" during which he acts incoherently and cannot remember what happened the next day. It is almost as if he is in a sleepwalking state, although you can't shake him out of it. He does not black out if he remains awake after drinking--this only occurs if he has fallen asleep first and then is awoken.

For example, during college after a night of drinking, he was acting normal and then fell asleep. When I woke him up a few hours later to get him to brush his teeth, he ended up wandering into someone else's dormroom thinking it was his. We couldn't find him for an hour, and he had no recollection of what had happened the next morning.

More recently, he had about 5 beers throughout the course of the day and fell asleep. When he woke up, his brother tried to talk to him but he was unresponsive. He fell back asleep on the couch and did not remember the next morning how he got there or what he did during that waking period.

I'm worried that these blackouts might be dangerous. They are certainly a scary thing to witness. It is like he is awake, but not conscious of his actions. Why does this only happen if he falls asleep first? Thank you for your help.
 John Kenyon, CNA - Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:49 pm

User avatar Hello --

There is an old, long history of the recognition of alcohol-induced somnambulism, a form of sleepwalking set in motion by consumption of alcohol rather than the usual "hysteria" or fugue state, although the result seems to be much the same.

While far from unheard of, we don't often hear actual accounts of this, which makes your husband's behavior appear random and unusual. Actually it's not so much so, but it is obviously problematic.

What may benefit your husband (and everyone else) most would be a sleep study. This may well identify the locus of the problem. Whether it does or not, however, it's probably going to become clear at some point that your husband either will have to stop drinking or else make certain he is adequately contained after having drunk. Since the latter solution is unlikey to be workable (or practical), and since most casual drinkers (and certainly all problem drinkers) have difficulty acknowleging a problem associated with their drinking, the sleep study may actually help put the problem into a more concrete context for him so that he's willing to look at the problem differently and perhaps be willing to do something to avoid a truly dangerous situation.

What you've observed (his seeming to be awake but not responsive and it being impossible to "snap him out of it") is classic for both psychic and alcoholic somnambulism and fugue state (although the latter can sometimes last indefinitely, which is a somewhat different subject). This is a real phenomenon and it can lead to dangerous situations. Hopefully your husband will either lay off the drinking voluntarily and/or agree to submit to a sleep study.

I hope this is helpful to you both. Good luck with this and please follow up with us as needed.

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