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Why do I black out so easily?
April 1, 2006 8:34 AM   Subscribe

I black out easily after drinking, and this hasn't always been the case.

I'm a short, slender, fairly healthy-eating, coffee-drinking 23-year-old male who blacks out after 3 or 4 beers. I don't drink often - a little over once a week? - but when I do, I wind up supposedly not appearing drunk at all to outside observers, thence to simply forget the night entirely the next day.

This hasn't always been the case. Back in college, I drank what I considered normally - never to excess, really - without any problems, but lately, this has been a thing.

Also, and I don't know if this is relevant, if I have too much sugar my face goes hot and I get very easily tired - something I notice especially since I almost never consume sweets or sugared soda.

Is there anything to this? Should I be worried about anything, or is this just how my body's grown up?
posted by Sticherbeast to Health & Fitness (20 answers total)
 
Er, by "a little over once a week," I mean, the duration of time between drinks is a little over once a week. Once every 7-11 days or something like that.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:38 AM on April 1, 2006


This isn't exactly the same, but...

I had a friend who would frequently blackout the next morning (that is, during the hangover). We always thought "Ohh.. that's just Jim" until one day he had a seizure during breakfast. Turns out he had a form of epilepsy and the hangover would trigger it.

Point is, if this really bothers you then you should see a doctor.
posted by sbutler at 9:04 AM on April 1, 2006


This doesn't sound normal, especially if it's new to you. Nor does your reaction to sugar. You should definitely get checked out for diabetes. Alcohol+diabetes is not a good combination (I say this having had a diabetic friend go into a coma the day after a big drinking session... )

There is a good site about blackouts here:

http://www.duke.edu/~amwhite/Blackouts/index.html
posted by unSane at 9:06 AM on April 1, 2006


By "black out" do you mean "faint/go unconscious" (which is what sbutler seems to be talking about) or "lose time/forget what you've done"?
posted by biscotti at 9:07 AM on April 1, 2006


This is quite unusual. Blackouts are strongly associated with heavy drinking. You might take a glance at this study which goes into some of the other factors. With blacking out being so strongly associated with a rapidly rising BAC, issues like how rapidly you are drinking and whether you are drinking on an empty stomach come into play. I've heard of genetic issues that affect how people metabolize alcohol, although one would expect that to have been present throughout your life. I've read that alcohol can induce hypoglycemia because it stimulates insulin production but I don't know if that's accurate or how it might relate to your "sugar flush" issue. I'd also question how certain you are of the amount of alcohol you are consuming as you are blacking out and not retaining memory of what transpires.

But I assume that if you were slamming 3-4 drinks in half an hour on an empty stomach you wouldn't need to ask about what's going on. I would most certainly be worried about this. Although your description of the frequency and amount of drinking you're doing sounds quite moderate, consistently blacking out is a serious issue and something that shouldn't be happening to anyone. Being blacked out is also dangerous in and of itself, because whatever appearances you really have no idea of what you're doing and to what degree you have concious control over your actions. I really believe you should stop drinking until you resolve this, and I would consider talking to a doctor, because unless we're not getting the whole picture (i.e. you're drinking very rapidly or underestimating the amout you're consuming) there is certainly something odd going on with the way you are metabolizing alcohol and you should probably figure out what. Maybe all the four beer blackout contingent will weigh in and tell me I'm full of it but I've never heard of someone consistently blacking out from moderate, infrequent drinking.
posted by nanojath at 9:20 AM on April 1, 2006


I see I linked the same report that unSane noted.
posted by nanojath at 9:21 AM on April 1, 2006


IANAD... You may want to have your doctor look into the sugar problem. I began experiencing similar sugar-related symptoms in my early 20's and a visit to the doctor got me a diagnosis of reactive hypoglycemia, which can be a precursor to type II diabetes. I'd suggest going in for a regular checkup and mentioning both of these problems to your doctor.
posted by syzygy at 9:38 AM on April 1, 2006


Adding caffeine to your alcohol consumption, as is generally well known, will not keep you sober. "Just a wide awake drunk," as they say.

However, caffeine will have a pretty big effect on the depletion of memory binding elements in your brain, and help you remember all the dumb shit you did.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:21 AM on April 1, 2006


None of us can drink the way we could back in college. That's universal.

It sounds like you have a pretty low body weight. 3-4 beers is actually a lot for folks with a modest body mass. Especially if you don't drink often. Especially if you're drinking high-alcohol-content beers. Especially if you're doing this on an empty stomach. Especially if you're out of shape, not getting the right kind of sleep, under stress, etc. And MOST especially if by "3-4" you really mean "4-6." If you're passing out, chances are you're spending at least a little bit of time awake and drinking without a lot of conscious control.
posted by scarabic at 10:34 AM on April 1, 2006


Beer has a lot of carbs, incidentally. Do you have the same results if you drink 3-4 gin and tonics? Maybe you're experiencing some kind of sugar shock. I don't know... but beer is rich in complex sugars.
posted by scarabic at 10:37 AM on April 1, 2006


Are you more tired, i.e. sleep deprived, overworked, stressed, than before?

Smoking pot with your beer?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:51 AM on April 1, 2006


it's not how much you drink that defines a problem with alcohol, it's what happens when you drink. For some people, alcohol creates problems almost from drink #1.

At the very minimum, you should stop drinking until you have seen a doctor and checked into things. Besides any health implications, it must be scary to think that you are doing things that you may not be aware of. Ianal, but you would likely be legally responsible for any problems or illegalities that might occur during such a state.

The site that unSane pointed to is very good.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:25 AM on April 1, 2006


I echo the comments about sugar. I had this issue (though it wasn't with beer - can't stand the stuff). After investigation, and blood tests, I have a diagnosis of type II diabetes.

It's nothing to play with. At least, for your own peace of mind, get a blood test done. A doctor can get a blood sample and do an A1C test to get an idea of your blood sugar levels over time.
posted by erisraven at 11:27 AM on April 1, 2006


See a doctor.
posted by delmoi at 11:37 AM on April 1, 2006


I have friends with epilepsy, friends with bipolar disorder, and friends with both, who often have functioning black outs. I'd see a doctor.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:17 PM on April 1, 2006


Doctor.

Also, "However, caffeine will have a pretty big effect on the depletion of memory binding elements in your brain, and help you remember all the dumb shit you did." makes no sense to me (a mediocre neurobiologist).
posted by metaculpa at 12:53 PM on April 1, 2006


And I'd stop drinking until I'd seen a doctor.
posted by xyzzy at 1:42 PM on April 1, 2006


Thanks for the all the answers, folks!

To answer scarabic's question, I definitely don't black out when I drink whiskey or red wine, which lends credence to the sugar issue culprit, which I had suspected.

Also, I had been fairly tired and stressed lately - less so now.

And I guess it was hyperbole to have said that I black out EVERY time, but it has happened more times than I think is normal.

Either way, to the doctor it is, and no more demon rum.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:07 PM on April 1, 2006


So: this is intermittent episodes of amnesia which are always related to moderate alcohol consumption but are not always triggered by same.

My money's on either epilepsy or a drug interaction (benzodiazepines). Do you take Klonopin, Valium, or Xanax? If not, could someone be slipping you roofies as a prank, or for other reasons? (Next time it happens, you could go get a pee test the next day; it'd tell you if you had ingested benzodiazepines.)

Again, straight to the doctor with you. You might want to bypass your primary care doc and go straight to a neurologist; I don't see any way this could be related to sugar or diabetes.

The other option is that it's psychogenic, but that'd be very unusual, so I think all the medical things should be ruled out first.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:18 PM on April 1, 2006


Yikes!

No medication, no no no. And the idea of people constantly slipping me roofies seems more surreal than likely, knowing my bookish lifestyle and social circle, unless there's a massive, inexplicable, and somewhat comic conspiracy against me.

Seriously, folks, I'm off to the doctor.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:41 PM on April 1, 2006


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