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Addiction and Substance Abuse

How much alcohol to cause a blackout?

11/04/2006

Question:

My boyfriend and I went to a concert. I have drank with him time and time again and has consumed WAY more alcohol on other occasions and never had a problem. He had about 6-7 drinks before we went inside. Throughout the course of the night we may have had 3 more shots. Half way through the night he became very aggressive and hostel towards me and long story short he got kicked out of the concert. I tried getting through to him but nothing worked. He woke up the next morning and remembered nothing, not even walking into the concert. I didn`t know anything was wrong until he got out of hand halfway through the night. He was acting a little strange, he couldnt stay in the crowd for very long and kept wanting fresh air. Do you think that this amt. of liquor could have caused this? The only time I was not with him was when he went to the bathroom, do you think its possible someone gave him something else? There were a lot of drugs going around. He says he doesnt remember taking anything but he doesnt remember the entire night. This is not like him at all, especially with the amt he drank. Both of us are very worrried. Let me know what you think. Thanks.

Answer:

I am sure this was a frightening experience for you and your boyfriend, and rightly so, as blackouts are a warning sign that one is drinking too much.

What is a blackout? It is a chemically (in this case alcohol) induced period of amnesia that can last for seconds, minutes, hours, and/or days. A blackout does not inhibit the movement of the individual during his/her daily activities. It will, however, prohibit the natural development of memory of recent experiences. It is not the same as passing out (loss or consciousness) which can also occur as a result of excessive drinking.

Could this amount of alcohol you mentioned cause a blackout? Most certainly it can. Research indicates that what generally leads to a blackout is a rapid rise in blood alcohol level, or drinking a lot in a short period of time which certainly occurred during the concert, on top of what had already been ingested. Other factors which contribute to blackouts besides drinking a lot in a short period of time, are drinking over long periods of time, fatigue, and no food.

One other consequence which you experienced was his hostile and aggressive behavior toward you and his getting kicked out of the concert. Research on college students who binge drink (drink 5+ drinks for a man, 4+ drinks for a women) and experience blackout, indicated that during the black out period, 33% insulted someone, 16% engaged in arguments or fights, and 16% damaged property and engaged in various other problem behaviors. So the aggressiveness you experienced is not an uncommon experience.

Following this experience, I hope you and your boyfriend take some time to evaluate your drinking behavior. At the very least, blackouts represent a dangerous state in which the drinker is typically extremely impaired and at great risk of doing harm to self or others, especially motor vehicle crashes and injury from falls and burns. The recommended drinking limit for men is no more than 2 drinks per day or 14 per week, with no more than 3 on any one occasion, and for women no more that one drink per day or 7 per week with no more than 3 on any one occasion. This may seem like a difficult limit, but you can see from this experience the strong effects alcohol has. Even more important is the effect that alcohol is having on one's body systems which we are not aware of until health problems occur or we are injured. So hopefully you will take time to think about drinking behavior and make some helpful changes.

There are several websites that might be useful and give you a more detailed picture of alcohol use, its problems, and consequences.

To assess your own drinking patterns and see how they "stack up" with what we know about alcohol use see http://www.alcoholscreening.org/.  I think you might find this interesting; it is easy to do and you get personalized feedback.

 

 

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Response by:

Janice Dyehouse, PhD, RN
Adjunct Professor
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati