How to prevent alcohol-induced blackouts?
November 23, 2009 8:51 PM   Subscribe

I find that it doesn't take very much alcohol for me to end up with a bit of short-term amnesia. Is there anything I can do about this? Is this a sign of Bad Things To Come?

I know, if I drink less (or none at all), I'll remember everything. Let's take that off the table for now. I know the risks involved and I'm as responsible as I can be, given the parameters. That said...

This weekend, I went out and had some drinks and when I woke up Sunday morning, I didn't remember a huge chunk of the night. In this particular instance, it was annoying because apparently there was drama that I don't remember. This is frustrating because while I was told that I didn't do anything that I have to apologize for, I hate not knowing.

This isn't the first time that this has happened. I'd say that it takes four beers of average strength for things to get foggy and if you add a cocktail or two after that, it's like there's a huge hole in my memory. I'm 5'4" and about 200 pounds, so assuming that I have a decent meal beforehand, I don't feel like this is a huge amount of alcohol. I also don't appear drunk enough to people around me that I should have this kind of memory loss. In fact, when I'm more outwardly drunk, I tend to remember more of it.

It's frustrating because I genuinely like to drink. I love beer, I love whiskey. I know that I'm not running a risk of being an alcoholic, I just love the taste.

Are there any hacks that I can do to increase my odds of remembering everything the next morning? If I eat *while* I drink, would that make a difference? Should I pack a Clif Bar when I go to the bar? I already have about a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage that I have. Is this likely to cause bad brain problems down the road? This has been happening for at least five years and I don't find that my tolerance has decreased or that the memory loss is more frequent. It's just generally annoying and I'd like it to stop.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've only had one or two proper blackouts but I do notice that if I'm tired in any way and proceed to get drunk, my memory can be pretty hazy, almost like I was semi-sleepwalking.
posted by mannequito at 9:01 PM on November 23, 2009

Sorry I know this is what you asked not to hear, but you black out when you are drinking, but you say that you know you are not running the risk of being an alcoholic. That doesn't make sense. You may actually already be an alcoholic.

And yeah, I think blacking out regularly on not much alcohol is probably not a great thing. Your body is having a hard time processing the alcohol, you are likely stressing your liver, which is not an organ to eff around with. I'm not an expert on this but know enough to say this is not good.
posted by sully75 at 9:09 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think it's as simple as: everybody handles alcohol differently. Eating while drinking will probably help. But..

I'd say that it takes four beers of average strength for things to get foggy and if you add a cocktail or two after that, it's like there's a huge hole in my memory.

That's 6 drinks, which I consider to be a lot of alcohol. I don't think it's weird at all that you would black out after that much... I weigh about 100 lbs less than you, but I'll black out after three drinks. I definitely understand that you like the taste of alcohol, but maybe alternate with water?
posted by pintapicasso at 9:10 PM on November 23, 2009

"I know, if I drink less (or none at all), I'll remember everything. Let's take that off the table for now. I know the risks involved and I'm as responsible as I can be, given the parameters."

Let's put it back on the table for a moment. Alcohol affects different people in different ways. It appears, for you, that it is having a serious impact upon your brain cells. For example, can you say for certain that (if you were driving last night) that you didn't run over somebody? If you didn't drive, still take a moment to ponder the question. If you can't remember a period of your night, you have no idea what transpired during that time. This is what we call dangerous.

I did some pretty stupid stuff when I was younger. Luckily, I had someone who took me aside and scared the hell out of me. That did not turn me into a tea totaller. What it did do was make me aware of a problem.

Alcohol damages brain cells. Many other things do too. Blows to the head, disease, being attached to a heart-lung machine during surgery. I've done them all. Any "hacks" you do only mask the damage that is being done. In time your "tolerance" will decrease and/or your memory loss will become greater and more frequent.

Now would be a good time to re-assess your question and decide to be open to all suggestions.
posted by Old Geezer at 9:24 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I drink maybe once a week
This is not a major criterion by which the condition of alcohol abuse is clinically defined.

I tend to favor pricier alcohols, where I'm not drinking to get drunk... I'm drinking because it's tasty
Neither is this, actually. The major "symptom" that drinking is a problem for someone is that it disrupts people's general functioning in their life in a noticeable way. Blacking out once a week is not optimal physical/psychological functioning, but it's not the same as not going to work or paying the bills, either. I'm certainly not calling you an alcoholic, but I am encouraging you not to define "problem" drinking by criteria that are false.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:29 PM on November 23, 2009

I googled and found this informative NIH publication. Here are some excerpts.

- Ryback concluded that a key predictor of blackouts was the rate at which subjects consumed their drinks. He stated, “It is important to note that all the blackout periods occurred after a rapid rise in blood alcohol level” (p. 622). The two subjects who did not black out, despite becoming extremely intoxicated, experienced slow increases in blood alcohol levels

- On average, students estimated that they consumed roughly 11.5 drinks before the onset of the blackout

- based on interviews with 136 heavy–drinking young adults (mean age 22), Hartzler and Fromme (2003b) concluded that en bloc blackouts often arise from the combined use of alcohol and other drugs

- a recent study by Hartzler and Fromme (2003a) suggests that people with a history of blackouts are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol on memory than those without a history of blackouts.... One plausible interpretation is that subjects in the fragmentary blackout group always have been more vulnerable to alcohol–induced memory impairments...A second interpretation is that subjects in the blackout group performed poorly during testing as a result of drinking enough in the past to experience alcohol–induced memory impairments. In other words, perhaps their prior exposure to alcohol damaged the brain in a way that predisposed them to experiencing future memory impairments

-a recent report by Nelson and colleagues (2004) suggests that there might actually be a genetic contribution to the susceptibility to blackouts, indicating that some people simply are built in a way that makes them more vulnerable to alcohol–induced amnesia.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:31 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

Is this a sign of Bad Things To Come?

It is especially dangerous for women to drink enough that they experience blackouts. The danger is neurological, it is social, and even among people you consider friends.
posted by alms at 9:34 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

That's 6 drinks, which I consider to be a lot of alcohol. I don't think it's weird at all that you would black out after that much... depends on whether those drinks are consumed over an entire evening (say 4 or 5 hours) or a short outing. That being said, everyone processes alcohol differently. I would recommend that you take a break every hour or so, and, instead of just getting that next drink, have a glass of water, go play a game, or go check your hair in the mirror. It's easy to loose track of the pace of your drinking if you are in a social group - especially if they are used to drinking more than you do. Don't try and match them drink for drink. I know a lot of folks will trot out the AMA guidelines on binge drinking, but if you are going out for an entire evening, it's not unreasonable to expect to have a drink at least every hour - aim for that and you'll be fine.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:36 PM on November 23, 2009

(the quick summary is, order fewer drinks, drink them slower, space them out longer, eat more and drink more water. and if you're drinking to the point of blackouts it will cause problems down the road in one way or another. this is all the standard common sense that you already knew. )
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:38 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Different people have different enzyme capacity for processing alcohol and it's break down products. Basically gene tic polymorphisms (or mutations) within those enzymes can make them more or less efficient. Therefore some people get really drunk on not much, some people get awful hangovers, some people can drink all night and feel nothing, etc. These are some of the genetic factors alluded to in PercussivePaul's comment (there may be others specifically involved in the blackouts themselves).

It sounds like you just have a lower tolerance for alcohol than you'd like. It doesn't matter if you think you should be able to drink that much (and four beers plus two cocktails has got to be at least ten standard drinks, it's not a trivial amount), the evidence clearly shows that you can't. Eating may slow alcohol absorption but it doesn't make it magically go away, your body still has to process it all. Drinking water will help keep you hydrated and can slow down how fast you drink but adding water doesn't magically make the amount of alcohol less either, all the alcohol that you put in your body still has to be processed and detoxified. So you need to drink less alcohol in each period of time (to allow the enzymes a chance to keep up), which involves drinking more slowly. This will most likely mean you end up drinking less overall but that's not a bad thing

Basically you've been drinking too much. Your body can't handle it. Drinking until you black out is the definition of drinking to excess. The only way to stop that is to drink less.
posted by shelleycat at 9:55 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm obviously less responsible about drinking than the other posters, but here goes anyway:

Try switching drinks. I lost a good 3 hours of a Friday night a couple of weeks ago to 3 vodka and tonics. 2 bottles of wine, no problem, but vodka? problem.

You could also try drinking more habitually. Maybe a glass of wine in the evening? This is seen as alcoholism in North America. But go to Europe, seems to be working just fine and studies always coming out to justify it.

posted by pick_the_flowers at 10:07 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

God this triggered me (and I can't tell you how much I hate writing that phrase). Please understand that I'm trying not to be all accusatory at you but I'm sharing something that is insanely painful in hopes you will understand.

First - I'm a lesbian. There is a woman who I love (note the present tense) deeply. She is only the second person with whom I'd ever considered "the rest of my life" with in any real and meaningful/cohabitation manner. We were together for over a year before she moved from her home on the east coast to my home in Denver. She's back on the east coast now.

The why?

We both enjoy alcohol. We enjoyed it together. Frequently. Over the course of a year and a half there were probably 7-8 episodes where the next morning she didn't remember significant chunks/details of the night before. This was, without exception accompanied with some form of bad behavior.

In March of this year we'd been having a wonderful day, topped off with a wonderful dinner and drinks. She had one too many (which for her varied from 2-5 depending on seemingly erratic factors) and things went downhill quickly. Instead of ending our day with a night of hot sex we ended it with her trying to force herself on me in such a sad and pathetic way that instead of telling her to shove off I endured it. Stupidly thinking it was the easier solution - because I just wanted the night to be over.

In the morning we had a long conversation about the night before and her behavior. I told her I needed time to think. I needed time to process and I needed her out of the house to do it. I was able to get myself back together and when she returned I told her what I needed in order to stay in the relationship. That included her getting into some sort of counseling as well as needing her to take responsibility for her drinking and knowing when to say when.

A month later another fantastic day - and a cocktail. Just one this time. And I could tell after just this cocktail that something was off. I asked her if she was all right because she was being overly cautious with her annunciation and that's a sign she's had too much. I outright asked her if she was feeling drunk. She said no, not at all. I offered to go get some food (neither of us had eaten for several hours). When I came home from the pizza place a few blocks away the cocktail was only a sip or two lower.

It was an hour later when I realized that in the ten minutes I'd been gone she drained and refilled her glass. I realized this when she started to verbally abuse me, as was the pattern. After two hours of her nonsensical berating, accusations and screaming/crying she crawled over to me and began hitting me. Mind you, this is not some bruiser I was living with. This was a petite young lady of the manicure and pearls variety. Violence was not ever part of her repertoire.

The next morning at 4am she wanted to know why I was sleeping on the sofa and I told her she'd blacked out. She knew at that moment that we were finished. I then got to spend the next three hours explaining to her everything that she'd done and said the night before.

She lives on the east coast now because I did the most difficult thing I can imagine in telling her to get out. I love her and miss her daily. I am still in contact with her and believe her when she says she feels the same. We were an amazing couple in nearly every other way. But I know I did the right thing in breaking it off. Her behavior in this state of inebriation had progressed from a mild annoyance to verbal abuse and then onto physical assault in little over a year.

I am still angry at times that she made such a conscious choice to drain that drink and make another. It felt, at the time and still, like she chose vodka over me.

Even if you never hit a soul while drinking/drunk - you are likely to one day do damage of some sort to someone you care about, or to yourself. Please think long and hard about what I've written. Put yourself in my exes shoes and imagine how you might feel if you woke up one morning and someone you love tells you that you hit them the night before.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:54 PM on November 23, 2009 [15 favorites]

Just to reinforce what PercussivePaul and shelleycat said -- I am the opposite to you. I am afraid that on the rare occasions when I have drunk to puking, incapable excess, I have remembered every shameful detail. I have had anyone say to me "you did x" and not remembered it. And I don't believe there's anything about my drinking habits that helps this. It's just how I am (and believe me, those times I refer to, I'd like to forget).

As a matter of interest are you a woman? And if you're 200lbs at 5'4", are you a really muscular bodybuilder, or chubby? To be blunt, if you're a short overweight woman, I'm afraid you just have no more capacity than a short lean skinny woman, which is to say, bugger-all. 10 standard drinks is tipsy territory for me, and I'm a 15% bodyfat 180lb man. Maybe you don't think you're drinking a lot, but you are.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:01 PM on November 23, 2009

Just a little FYI after reading Old Geezer's post:
Alcohol does not kill or damage brain cells.

Alcohol will damage how brain cells communicate. However, that is very reversible as the brain repairs itself.

This is all well documented by a lot of different studies.


As far as the question:
I have noticed blackouts that happen from small amounts of alcohol occur when people are extremely tired, both physically and mentally, as well as not being properly nourished.

If you have a history of blackouts and know your pattern I don't know what is going to stop them from happening since you basically know how your body is going to react.
The wikipedia page on this is pretty good so I'd recommend reading that if you haven't.

Try to just to watch your drinking pace and see what happens. You might be flying through those drinks sometimes without knowing it OR you could just be really unlucky and this is part of your genetics.

In any case I'd try to really nail down what your pattern is so you can avoid blacking or browning out.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:14 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

You know that alcohol has this worrisome effect on you, yet you're unwilling to consider drinking less...just because you like the taste. You wouldn't even have to stop drinking - just limit yourself to appreciating the taste of, say, two beers instead of four. But you say that's off the table. That doesn't seem weird to you?

Look, continued use despite adverse physical or psychological consequences is one sign of dependence. Alcohol can fuck up your memory, permanently. I really think you need to reassess your priorities. A lot of things taste good, but you only have one brain.

Also: zephyr_words, your claim is very misleading. Long-term and/or excessive alcohol use can cause all sorts of irreversible brain damage.
posted by granted at 1:22 AM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

I used to drink boatloads of beer and scotch and some etc and etc, just whatever was around or whatever I wanted. As far as I know, I never blacked out -- I did more like brown-out just prior to passing out, things were faded but they were accessible, esp if/when there was someone to remind me -- ouch.

Key phrase in the above -- As far as I know. Blackouts take people through a hole and into another world, a world in which they might drive or hit the rack with anyone or do any manner of things. Anything. No telling. And they might not even seem to be drunk to others when they are in this other reality.

They'll come out of it and be in conversation with someone and have no idea who this person is or where they are at or why. Or they could find themselves in the rack with someone, a someone who actually thinks that they are in their real reality, and might be surprised to find out that the person has no idea that they've spent X hours -- or days -- in their company. I knew a guy in Houston who blacked out, came out of it married. I shit you not. As far as I know, he's still married to her. But...

You can be Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, a total psycho when you're blacked out. I dated a woman who had this going on, ended up with my very own Fatal Attraction scenario -- I can't recommend this at all.

One drink can set this in motion. One drink. Fact.

You're in danger here. And so are others.

Your call. You like to drink -- sorry. It's not a good plan. Maybe try downers, same sortof buzz, see if they take you out of this space-time. Learn to like pot -- I never did, not unless I was drinking. But you might.

Or -- GASP !! A HORROR SHOW !! -- don't get high at all. A hard thing for a young person to consider, for sure.

Please consider others if not yourself.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:01 AM on November 24, 2009

How to prevent alcohol-induced blackouts? Don't drink so much so quickly. Realize that when you drink five drinks or so in a relatively short time period, you black out and become a danger to yourself and everyone around you. Accept this particular limitation of your metabolism, nervous system and mental capacity. Don't tax your body, mind or soul with excessive drinking.

Five years of blackouts is way too much, far beyond the "Hey, I'm drinking and learning my limits" stage of human development. Time is precious, especially when you're young. Think of all the things you could have done, the healthy relationships you could have made, if you were conscious.

You already know you're not going to be a ninja, or a super-spy, or the next Orson Welles, and you're okay with that. Now realize that you're not going to be the person who can knock down six drinks in a night and still be conscious and in control.

Now realize that you're not going to be the guy who ruins the party and doesn't remember it the next day either. That's a net gain in anybody's book.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:46 AM on November 24, 2009

Yeah, it does seem that the pattern with people I know or have been acquainted with is that blackouts seem to center around bad behavior. Maybe it is a defense mechanism, that somehow the brain is able to file the bad behavior away in the "oh, that was just a dream" area of the brain.

I would work really hard to cut my drinking down if that was occurring with me. Seems like a bad road to be on.
posted by gjc at 3:14 AM on November 24, 2009

I suffer from the same thing. Drinking pace does have something to do with it, but I find that eating before and also during helps.

Alcohol can cause hypoglycaemia, which for me and probably for you is a temporary situation when you are out drinking rather than an ongoing condition.

My pet/unproved/untested theory is that when you mix the disruption of alcohol with the hypoglycaemia you get a situation where your brain does not have the ability or resources to encode memories.
posted by hifimofo at 3:16 AM on November 24, 2009

IANAD but lets theorize blindly for a moment. Alchohol is a depressant maybe the blacking out is due to it acting on you nervous system. So perhaps it would be good to pick a chemical with the opposite effect ie a stimulant: caffine pills, expresso, cigarettes if so inclined.

I've only blacked out twice but one thiing I've noticed its really easy to do sitting down so stay standing.
posted by Rubbstone at 3:21 AM on November 24, 2009

You didn't mention taking other medications, but if you do, that could be significant. For example, alcohol will enhance the sedative effects of an antihistamine. Otherwise, you sound particularly sensitive to the effects of alcohol. I know people who get woozy with one drink.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:21 AM on November 24, 2009

Order water with the beer to slow down the drinking. Sometimes I drink too fast and wish I would have gone slower. I order a water along with the beer to slow me down, because often I just want to drink something when I'm being social.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:37 AM on November 24, 2009

Try taking a vitamin B before you start drinking.

And, definitely, eat.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:25 AM on November 24, 2009

"I don't feel like this is a huge amount of alcohol."

Let me preface this by saying I outmass you: It is. That's a week's worth of drinking in one binge.
posted by majick at 6:31 AM on November 24, 2009

First of all, this ("Maybe a glass of wine in the evening? This is seen as alcoholism in North America.") is wrong; maybe a joke, but this isn't really a joking matter.

There's really only one "hack" that will keep this from happening, and that's to drink less. Keep yourself to a two-drink maximum. If you can't do that, then yes, you do have a drinking problem and you need to stop, period.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:32 AM on November 24, 2009

I understand it might not seem like a lot of alcohol. But it is. You are probably hanging out with a bunch of people that are drinking the same amount, if not more. I've been there and it skews your sense of normal. The way to stop blacking out, is to stop drinking so much at once. How to do this depends on you. You may just be able to do it, or you may have to find new friends and new activities.
posted by Gor-ella at 8:02 AM on November 24, 2009

You are drinking too much at one time too fast. Emphasis here is on the too fast. I notice you say about 4 beers and a cocktail or two after that - you are steadily drinking 4 beers, slowly raising your blood alcohol content at an even pace and then spiking it at a much faster pace with 2 cocktails leading to blackout. If you are unwilling to accept that the only real way to fix your problem is to drink less, than the best hack i can give you is to stick to one type of drink a night (beer for quickest consumption, wine for moderate, liquor for slow sippin) and only raise your BAC at a slow, STEADY, EVEN, pace.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:45 AM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Man, I know MeFi has a sordid history with alcohol abuse, but a lot of these answers seem to have some undue fear mongering.

First of all, no, I do not think this is a sign of 'bad' things to come. The very fact that you are aware that this is a potential problem and that you are trying to figure out what's going on speaks volumes. Many people drink to black-out and it never so much as raises their eyebrow.

Nthing some of what I feel is truth from above (above in the thread I mean...):

- Everyone by nature processes alcohol differently. By 'nature' I mean all other external factors (time, food, etc) being equal, everyone will hold their booze differently.

- The rate at which you drink is the most important factor. I can spend a day sipping through a bottle of wine or several scotch and sodas. But if I pound some whiskey shots behind a beer (which I rarely do...ahem...), I get to the 'this will be foggy tomorrow' stage.

- Food. You said you ate dinner before, which is key. Also try eating a little at some point during the drinking. What you eat is also really important. Despite what you might hear, onion rings and the like are not the best drinking food. Your liver is responsible for processing a grip of shit you put in your body, and the less crap you give it to deal with, the more efficiently it will function. That means processed foods, salt, sugar, alcohol are not friends of your liver. Certain foods - cranberries, artichokes - are exceptional for your liver.

- You say you drink about a glass of water per drink. Yes. Water is key. Drink lots of water before bed.

- Physical and mental exhaustion can also really contribute to this. If I have a couple drinks on a weekday after work, I get drunk much quicker and pass out much sooner. But on, say, on a Saturday when I slept in, didn't do much during the day...

- 6 drinks is not an insignificant amount of booze, especially if its a couple glasses of whiskey after four beers. I consider myself someone who can hold his alcohol, but that would make me pretty darn drunk, sleepy and unlikely to have a vivid recollection of the previous night's activities.

It's important to note that just because it feels as though you are perfectly in control when you're drunk and that you are remembering everything, this is likely not the case. After enough bourbon, I get going about something and I think I'm being the most profound, articulate motherfucker ever. Only to realize the next day that not only did I not remember things I had said but what I did say was not at all articulate or even right. I have proven this on Metafilter in the past. Now, the only way to remedy this situation is to try and know when to stop. This is incredibly difficult, especially, as has been famously observed, when you get to drink #3. There is no real solution to this that I can offer - just remember that generally the more you drink the more you drink.

*Addendum: I have a tenuous relationship with alcohol. Sometimes I have drank to the point of black out because sometimes I drink to forget. This is not *healthy,* but it doesn't seem like this is the case for you, which is why I said earlier that I don't think this is a sign of bad things to come. I say this only to ask why value placed on remembering. I have, apparently, had some great times when I've been black out drunk, or so I've been told. I've also done things that weren't so great, said things that were hurtful, etc. - it's not necessarily the not-remembering that makes it bad so much as it is creating drama while very drunk. There's a big difference, I feel (and many mefites will vehemently disagree) between getting black-out drunk and not really remembering the incredible orgy you had the night before with your closest friends which you've only been made aware of because you made an incredible video of it and getting black-out drunk and screaming at your SO and throwing shit.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:10 AM on November 24, 2009

I'd say that it takes four beers of average strength for things to get foggy and if you add a cocktail or two after that, it's like there's a huge hole in my memory....I know the risks involved and I'm as responsible as I can be, given the parameters.

These two points directly contradict each other. You know what it takes to make you black out, so in what way whatsoever are you being responsible when you drink this amount?

This has been happening for at least five years

If you had a friend whose behavior, X, directly resulted in negative outcome, Y, for five years, and he asked you for advice, what would you say? Stop. Doing. X.

I also don't appear drunk enough to people around me that I should have this kind of memory loss.

Sorry, but you know this how? You don't remember what happened. So, what you are saying is, if you ask the people who were also drinking at the time if you appeared drunk, they said no? Ah. And these are reliable witnesses, are they? Now, I bet you'd tell me that they would have no problem telling you if you did look drunk, right? So, for five years, you've been blacking out and they've been continually telling you that you don't look drunk. I'm thinking maybe your friends don't know what the word "drunk" means.

I know, if I drink less (or none at all), I'll remember everything. Let's take that off the table for now....I love beer, I love whiskey. I know that I'm not running a risk of being an alcoholic, I just love the taste.

I've worked with counselors who deal with alcoholics. One counselor, a popular motivational speaker, a minister and former alcoholic himself, tells this anecdote:

I was on a radio talk show, in the wee small hours, the time when they run the important-but-not-so-good-for-ratings Public Service Announcements, answering questions about how to get help for your loved ones, etc.

This guy calls up and he's got a problem with me. Says that all these so-called alcoholics who quit drinking just like to label people. He likes to drink, just like the next guy, so what? Does that mean he's an alcoholic?

Then he says he's been having problems lately, and his wife says it's because he drinks too much. Well, so, how much is too much?

So this guy, he tells me he's heard that if you drink every night, it means you're an alcoholic. But then some people say if you drink so many beers a week, then you're an alcoholic. Now, he likes his vodka, and he likes his beer. And he starts giving me numbers, bottles of vodka and cans of beer and all that. So, would I say that he's an alcoholic, with the amount he drinks?

We like to quantify--if I drink THIS many, I'm fine, but if I drank THAT many, then I would have a problem. It makes life easier.

So I tell the guy, "Well, I don't know you. But you want to know how to tell if your drinking is a problem. Here's what I think. You say you like to drink. Now, me, I like chocolate. But here's the thing...I never called up a radio station in the middle of the night to ask a complete stranger if my chocolate-eating is a problem."

You came to AskMe because you KNOW this is a problem for you. Stop looking for "hacks" and quit drinking.
posted by misha at 10:10 AM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

Just pace yourself and make sure you eat. But I will point this out. People who don't have a problem with alcohol would never ask this question. That's not to say you can't manage it, but don't underestimate alcohol's power to ensnare you.

As far as the brain problems are concerned, the jury is out. From what I understand, serious brain damage results in alcoholics because of poor nutrition and a vitamin-B and thiamine deficiency. Some recent studies say that intense cardio exercise and fasting will rebuild the brain. Some recent studies say that binge drinking leads to irreversible brain damage. Who knows. But, I am sure I would be a lot sharper if I wouldn't have been trying to be a rockstar in my 20's and early 30's.

On the topic of blacking-out, people handle it differently. I know some people who blackout and become maniacs. I know others who are 'blacked-out' and those around them have no clue. Some people act just fine when blacked-out, they just don't remember anything the next day. Other's get into fights, crash cars, or ruin relationships. A while back I ran into a friend of mine at a bar. He had just met this gorgeous girl, and they were hanging out having a awesome time. I joined to conversation, and he was his usual charming self. The girl he was with was absolutely stunning. Round after round of drink was ordered. I eventually left and saw my friend a few days later. I asked him "Hey man, what happened to that hot girl you where hugged up with the other night?". His reply: "What girl?". He had no recollection of every meeting this girl. I had no idea that he had had that much to drink.
posted by jasondigitized at 10:18 AM on November 24, 2009

many years ago i went out drinking with a close, long term friend. he and i had a FWB relationship in the past but that was a couple years earlier and we were just old friends catching up. I knew that in certain friend situations he had gotten a little shady, but he was always awesome to me.

well, somewhere in the parking lot of my place my memory just stops. i have tiny snippits of things that aren't good. him touching me, him putting my hands on his penis, things like that. he knew beforehand that i had no interest in anything physical and was just looking for some friend time. i have no recollection of how i got upstairs. luckily i was staying with friends so he didn't come up with me. the rest of the night is totally gone. my friends tell me that i had forgotten where the bathroom was and was trying to go out to the porch to find it (completely out of character, i had been there for weeks at that point and it was a tiny, one bedroom apartment). i apparently was up for a couple hours, but not "with it". the next day i had a blinding headache.

one of two things happened, i blacked out (something that i've never done before or since) or he drugged my drink (something he had done once before, but right in front of me and with my consent). i had to cut off communication with my friend and never see him or speak to him again, because i realized that if i was even a little afraid of him drugging my drink without my knowledge/against my will, then he wasn't someone i could trust myself to drink with. but there's this tiny part in my brain that says "what if you blacked out", then i lost a friend out of my own lack of control.

maybe stories like FlamingBore's and mine will never happen to you. maybe when you black out you'll never do something that can't be taken back or apologized for. for your sake, i hope they don't. unfortunately, when you're blacked out, you don't have control over yourself or those around you. you can't access dangerous situations and react appropriately. it doesn't matter how many or how few drinks it takes. it doesn't matter if you are or aren't an alcoholic. what matters is you aren't being safe with yourself and your continuing a pattern even though you know it's damaging.
posted by nadawi at 4:40 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

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