To learn more about the author of this blog, Phyllis Klein, LCSW,
More and more high school and college age women are experiencing blackouts. Blackouts occur when you drink a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time, and an empty stomach or being tired increase the risks of a blackout happening. The drama unfolds in your brain, where memory receptors get blocked, so you aren’t forgetting anything—you are actually not forming memories. You can do anything a fully functioning person can do while you are blacked out. It’s just that you aren’t in control of what you are doing or able to give consent to things you don’t want to happen. People you are with may not be able to tell that you are blacked out because you might seem normal or only slightly inebriated. And you may say or do things that you would never do sober.
Blackouts are usually very scary, and can feel shameful. If you are experiencing them, it is important to try to cut down on what you are drinking, eat before you start drinking and during the time you are drinking, and drink more slowly. In this day and age of all night partying this advice may sound impossible to do, especially when all your friends are also drinking heavily. And for some women, drinking and partying is the way they go about meeting guys.
If you find that dating is hard to do sober, drinking can feel like it gives you confidence and helps you feel less anxious or awkward. However, many women report that they have sex much more often drunk than sober, and the experience of waking up in a stranger’s bed not remembering how you got there or what happened can be terrifying on many levels—because it is humiliating, because you may not have used birth control, because you are worried about getting an STD, and because you may feel like you have been raped but can’t remember what happened. And these behaviors and worries are certainly going to have a negative impact on your self-esteem.
The University of California at Santa Barbara has an excellent website called SexInfoOnline. The article on alcohol blackouts emphasizes the idea that if you know what your blood alcohol level is and how many drinks it takes to get there you can begin to control your risk of having a blackout. Remember that women usually take less alcohol than men to get to the same blood alcohol level even if you are the same weight. Women’s bodies don’t metabolize alcohol the same as men and the negative effects of drinking are physically greater for women and happen sooner than for men. However, many women are drinking larger quantities of alcohol now than we might have in the past.
If you have been trying to cut down on having blackouts and find that you are not able to, if your friends are worried about your drinking or drug usage, and if you have a family history of alcoholism, it can be important to seek help. Many drinking problems are discovered only after several experiences with negative consequences, a lot of shame, self-loathing, and regret. On the Alcoholics Anonymous website, there are 12 questions on the “Is AA for you?” page. These questions can help you decide if you have a problem. The National Council on Alcoholism and other Drug Addictions is also a very helpful resource if you are worried about yourself. And if you aren’t ready to confront the problem directly yet, remember that there is non-judgmental help waiting for you. And if you are able to cut down on your drinking and stop having blackouts, share this information with others, and keep working on staying safer!