Do you know you will black out?
December 18, 2010 7:46 PM   Subscribe

When you start to drink again do you expect that you will black out again?

I have never "blacked out" after drinking but others around me do. I can with strong evidence later point out that they have blacked out, this evidence is usually tossed aside.

So, if you are aware that you black out when you drink, do you expect to black out the next time you start drinking?
posted by pianomover to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If they deny it, they obviously don't care and don't think about it. I have blacked out and it was not a consideration the next time I drank. It was not consistent so expectations are hard to have. I have blacked out on 6 beers and not on 10. You never know.
posted by AugustWest at 7:56 PM on December 18, 2010

no. But what do you really mean by "when you drink", does that mean one drink or 15?

I have had black-out moments, but I also have not.

I am a person with generally bad memory, and my wife is not; she does not black-out (except once). I can't recall what I wore on Thursday, she can quote tiny details of ridiculous pieces of history/books/...

There's no good answer to the obvious sub-text question going on here, sorry.
posted by zombieApoc at 7:57 PM on December 18, 2010

Response by poster: I am talking about repeated black outs caused by drinking alcohol.
Whether you drink two beers or a fifth of bourbon.

Is your expectation based on previous experience that you will again black out?
posted by pianomover at 8:04 PM on December 18, 2010

I blacked out once in my life after apparently drinking too much wine, and I have had alcohol many times since then. So no. But I do try to avoid drinking enough for that to happen.
posted by wondermouse at 8:13 PM on December 18, 2010

So, if you are aware that you black out when you drink, do you expect to black out the next time you start drinking?

This sounds rather more like ", when you drink, do you do it to black out on purpose." That's more or less of a poll question, unless you're actually posing it to the specific person who's worrying you.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:19 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

My experience (both of my own drinking and with other people around me) was that when I entered the stage of drinking where I began to have blackouts (and other drinking-related... experiences), they were all unpredictable. They'd come after a few drinks or a ton of drinks, really without any rhyme or reason.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:20 PM on December 18, 2010

Response by poster: My experience with the people around me who do drink till they blackout is that they choose to deny the fact that they have. Those that acknowledge it treat the incidence as minor and tend to minimize the
posted by pianomover at 8:56 PM on December 18, 2010

I've blacked out before. Hell, I blacked out two week ago. Am I concerned about it? No, it's just something that happened because I drank to much. Was I trying to black out? No, absolutely not.

Most people have their own limit when they go out for the night; some point at which they cut themselves off. For me the limit is "Will I be sick?" Doesn't matter how much fun I'm having or how much my friends push me to do a shot, when I start to feel queazy I'm done. Whether I blackout or not doesn't enter into judgement. I don't particularly like blacking out, but I like to drink and sometimes it happens.

It sounds like you really don't ever want to blackout, and that's fine. That's your limit. But you have to accept that for other people it's not an important concern.
posted by The Supreme Dominar at 9:25 PM on December 18, 2010

I often have memory gaps the day after a night of heavy drinking, I call it "blacking out". I know that if I have more than a certain number of drinks, it will happen. I only drink that much when I am surrounded by people I know, or going to a party at a house I feel safe staying at if I need/want to. Generally after two or three drinks I come to a crossroad: either keep drinking, quickly and a lot, and get really drunk, or slow down and don't get to the black out stage. I am aware of my actions, and the friends I appreciate most in those circumstances are those who don't police my actions but do look out for my best interest throughout the evening.
posted by hepta at 9:25 PM on December 18, 2010

I have been aware that I blacked out, but I didn't expect to repeat it. In other words, I did not particularly enjoy the the experience of losing blocks of time, and when it happened, I didn't like it. I hated that crap of having to ask other people what I did and waking up with no idea where I was. Blacking out is not something I seek.
posted by wv kay in ga at 9:29 PM on December 18, 2010

So... you're asking if people drink to black out on purpose?

I blacked out a couple of times in college, but not on purpose. That wasn't the point. Don't get me wrong, I was drinking to get drunk but I wanted to remember all the crazy stuff we did.
posted by gaspode at 9:35 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have, in the past, had enough to drink to have blacked out. It is not something that keeps me from drinking again, as in my case, it has not led to any repercussions - it has happened in situations where i was either in my own home and/or safely surrounded by friends who took care of me. It is not as unpleasant an experience as throwing up after having had a lot to drink. If there have not been obviously negative consequences (losing things, waking up in odd places, etc) then, I can see where people would minimize it. Additionally, it's an embarassing thing to happen, to forget what you said or did, and it implies that you can't hold your liquor (even if, in truth, you've had more alcohol than anyone can or should consume).

That said, you shouldn't go in to an evening with a plan to black out anymore than you should start drinking with a plan to drink until you vomit. Black out enough times and, in all likelihood, you will say or do something stupid enough to regret in the morning. And it isn't a healthy thing - at least vomiting is ridding your body of excess alcohol still in your stomach. There is no upside to a black out.

To sum - I don't think blacking out is a reason to stop drinking, but it is a sign that you're drinking too much. If your friends are regularly drinking to the point of blacking out (like, weekly), they are drinking too much. If it happens occaisionally (a couple times a semester), I wouldn't worry yourself in the long term.
posted by maryr at 9:38 PM on December 18, 2010

You're asking if people acknowledge that they back out? Alcohol causes memory loss so they might honestly not remember anything about that night. If you're asking if regularly backing out is a common thing I'd say no.
posted by chairface at 10:17 PM on December 18, 2010

I've blacked out a bunch of times and I pretty much always definitely knew it afterwords because I would wake up and not have any idea how I got home / what happened the rest of the night. That said, in my experience as a person who drank a lot, I couldn't necessarily be sure that someone else was blacked out, though it's easy to tell when it's likely.

"do you expect to black out the next time you start drinking?" is kind of a silly question. There's a wide range from "drinking" to "blacking out". If you were able to step back from your drunk self for a moment to evaluate, you could surely know "ok, now I'm at risk for blacking out". But you can't, because you're drunk, which is a state that compounds stupidity. Since I've blacked out a bunch before I'm never surprised if I wake up to find myself missing some time because my memory extends enough that in retrospect I can recognize that it was coming, but in the moment I'll just drink another beer.
posted by ghharr at 11:02 PM on December 18, 2010

"blacked out" is a time-based absence of experience. Often dependent upon context.
posted by ovvl at 11:39 PM on December 18, 2010

I've never blacked out (that I can recall), but the two times I got sick (to the point of...getting sick) I didn't set out to get that sick. It just happened.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:57 PM on December 18, 2010

I went to college with a woman who said that she knew she had had a good night if she blacked out. So, yeah, a few people drink with the purpose of blacking out.
posted by Monday at 12:12 AM on December 19, 2010

I don't think "blacking out" has a very standard definition. Some people use it to mean something like "involuntarily passed out cold" and some people use it refer to memory loss while ostensibly conscious.

As for memory loss, well, drunk memory is a funny thing. Sometimes you think you have a blank spot, but remember perfectly once someone reminds you. Sometimes you remember everything, but not chronologically, and it takes some corroborative help to straighten it out.
posted by desuetude at 12:57 AM on December 19, 2010

No, I think it's something that happens usually when people are drinking fast enough that their rate of consumption exceeds the rate of absorption and they miss the earlier signals to slow down or stop because their body doesn't have time to flag them down by saying 'let's go to sleep now' or 'hey, I'd like to barf.'
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:39 AM on December 19, 2010

Best answer: desuetude: "I don't think "blacking out" has a very standard definition. Some people use it to mean something like "involuntarily passed out cold" and some people use it refer to memory loss while ostensibly conscious."

Exactly. Since I didn't ever black out, but had surely "involuntarily passed out cold" any number of times when I drank, I just thought that people were talking about passing out when they talked about blacking out. And I've read about boxers blacking out when getting smacked unconscious, which added to my misunderstanding of it. It wasn't until later in life that I found out what it really is, that it's like walking out of yourself, through a wormhole of sorts into what is almost another life, where you're conscious and walking and talking and maybe having sex and who knows what all else, and all of that happening at a distance, or at a remove, totally out of your control, totally out of your awareness, it's like there's another person inhabiting your body.

What really helped me to see it was dating a woman who blacked out as soon as she put *any* alcohol in her system, and her blackout persona was vile and violent and ugly and cruel, it was like living in a Stephen King horror story, instead of Jack Torrence it's the little sweetie lives in the next building down, a gentle, thoughtful, educated, darling woman turned totally inside out. And next day she had no idea, though she'd had enough experience to know that she'd perhaps been insane, which she absolutely was when blacked out, and she had enough experience to know that she'd perhaps hurt people around her. It's like watching American Werewolf In London, where the kid came out of his transformation to werewolf not knowing where he was, naked, sortof lost, confused after his night of dissonance. Since that series of experiences with C____, I've come to understand what it is, this whole blackout thing I mean, and know that I'd seen it before and not recognized it, and to know now what others who have them are discussing when they talk about the experience of it.

desuetude:"As for memory loss, well, drunk memory is a funny thing. Sometimes you think you have a blank spot, but remember perfectly once someone reminds you. ..."

This is what my experience was, mostly I did remember what had happened and what I did and what I said and if I didn't remember it'd damn sure come back when some of lifes reminders are around when I came to, the whiskey dents in my cars, lost relationships, hurt feelings. I call them 'brown outs' as opposed to black outs, it's all fuzzed out completely but then, along with the hangover comes life as a mirror showing me myself as a drinker, in my own case life as a mirror showing me myself as an alcoholic ...

So, OP, to your basic question: So, if you are aware that you black out when you drink, do you expect to black out the next time you start drinking? I can't answer it from my own personal experience, from the inside out, but I can say with complete confidence that C______ had to know that it was going to happen to her, as it has happened to her every time she's ever drank, right from the very first, when she was a teen. You wouldn't believe some of the consequences that this has had on her life, in her life. And I've known a number of other blackout drunks who absolutely expected that they'd black out when they started drinking, for some of them it was the point of drinking, the total and complete escape from their life experience, like going to Disneyland but not having to take the train. Though I've never really understood it, as if I was to go to Disneyland I'd want to remember the rides or whatever, and they don't, but they're still compelled to go there.

Good question, you got me going here, I often think of C_____, I wish she could set it down, but she cannot. Compelled, that really is the right word. A fine woman, with a thorn in her side, in her soul, truth be told. It got so dark, it was my very own Fatal Attraction, her family wanted to help me, they knew what it was I was up against and wanted to help but knew it was/is bigger than they are and knew they could not help, I was on my own, endless harassment of every description; once I saw what it was and pulled the plug she really, really went nuts, she really, really drank a lot, I had no rest for the longest time, and to stop it, to put the halts to that show ... It was difficult. Interesting. I can't recommend it. She's in San Marcos now, moved a year ago, you might want to call me before you go to dating any painter in San Marcos, unless you want a Disneyland experience of your very own...
posted by dancestoblue at 3:48 AM on December 19, 2010

Best answer: There really is a bit of a standard definition and there has been a fair amount of research on this and whether it indicates emerging alcoholism or a predisposition to it:
Conventionally, an alcohol-induced blackout has been thought to be an essential early warning sign of problematic drinking, occurring very rarely in non-alcoholics. Previously, blackouts were ranked among the top three indicators of alcoholism, its course remaining relatively stable over time [3]. Although now it is clear that blackouts are not limited to alcoholics, it is a strong indicator of rapid and excessive drinking. A great majority of alcoholics experience blackouts during the early phase of addiction [41]. Even in young social drinkers, those that experience blackouts are characterized by more days of drinking, frequent heavy drinking, and a greater number of drinks per day. The influence of heavy drinking on the blackout incidence is even more compelling considering the fact that heavy drinkers are known to minimize self-reported estimates of drinking [9]. Although the alcohol-induced blackout itself may not be an indicator of progressive alcohol dependence, the way in which an individual views the experience of a blackout may be influential in determining future drinking behavior.
So useful search terms are "alcohol blackout" and "alcohol-induced blackout."

As for personal responses, I have blacked out while drinking too much too fast a handful of times in my life. Though there have been times when things turned out fine and it was perversely funny, personally, I am not interested in repeating the experience. It creeps me the hell out, as it is such a hallmark of alcoholism and the alcoholics I have known in my life have inflicted the most damage and been the most miserable while in blackout states, or so they later said. And, like gaspode, if I'm drinking to get drunk it's to have fun in that altered state and to be present for that experience, not to reduce the experience into a blur or a mystery that I have no real access to. So, for me, no, it's never intentional and when it happens accidentally it upsets me.
posted by Miko at 5:32 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you black out every time you drink, then you should expect to black out when you start drinking the next time. If you don't black out every time you drink, then you shouldn't. Here is an analogy: I hike almost every day. Once this year I twisted my ankle hiking. When I go out hiking, I don't expect to twist my ankle.
posted by snofoam at 6:47 AM on December 19, 2010

I used to black out pretty frequently when I drank. While I never intended to black out, there was a time when I did enjoy it: it was like a little drunken mystery for me to solve the next hungover morning. I eventually noticed a correlation between gin and blacking out, so I stopped drinking gin. Which makes me sad, 'cause I really like gin. Anyway, since quitting gin, blacking out has been pretty rare.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 7:17 AM on December 19, 2010

My experience is similar to Great Big Mulp. Blacking out with the right people can occasionally set you up for a fun problem-solving mystery over hungover greasy brunch. Yes, it's self-destructive behavior, but not unheard of in my state college and early professional social circles. There's a set of people who will set out to get as drunk as possible for certain occasions (big parties, weddings, events with open bars).

YMMV but we've observed that blacking out is related to the derivative of volume consumed. So a night that begins by slamming three shots is likely to end in blackout, but a night with six mixed drinks spaced out could be pretty calm. I also find for me that it depends a lot how much I've eaten that day and how much I've been sleeping.

Common sense dictates it should be pretty easy NOT to blackout if you KNOW you don't want to (drink less / more slowly). I think what's worrying about your friends is that they DENY blacking out. If you feel you need to lie about your drinking habits, you should probably be drinking less.
posted by ista at 9:48 AM on December 19, 2010

Response by poster: It is only of late that I have realized that the black out is in progress while the person is seemingly conscious.
Thanks for your opinions and answers
posted by pianomover at 9:49 AM on December 19, 2010

There really is a bit of a standard definition and there has been a fair amount of research on this and whether it indicates emerging alcoholism or a predisposition to it:

Oh, this is correct, I should've been clearer about that. However, as we see from this thread, the established definition isn't always mutually understood. Like Miko, blacking out creeps me the hell out and I find it terribly embarrassing as well. Seconding that it is socially acceptable in certain circles, though honestly, in a crowd, I've denied/minimized it. (Not denying it to myself, mind you, I beat myself up over lessons learned.)

As for whether they are expecting to black out, well, I think there's a lot of intentional denial that goes on when you're experimenting with alcohol and responsibility. Certainly I agree with ista's point about common sense, but to turn it around, there's sometimes an attitude of taking one's "best score" and considering it a standard, i.e. "I was fine that one night when I drank a six-pack and then did seven shots, so I can handle that much alcohol."
posted by desuetude at 10:58 AM on December 19, 2010

I'm with Miko. I can't stand blacking out; it skeeves me out more than anything and aside from serious over-the-top illness from overdoing it with alcohol it's the number one deterrent to me drinking again for a long while (but then, I don't have social issues or bad decision-making problems when I drink; if I did obviously that would probably deter me just as much). It happens once in a blue moon and the couple of times it has I've always considered quitting drinking altogether afterward and usually avoid alcohol for months. It really bothers me to know I've been walking around totally seemingly conscious doing stuff and have zero recollection of it. That feels like loss of control retroactively, which creeps me right out.
posted by ifjuly at 1:04 PM on December 19, 2010

Get different friends. Binge-drinking until you black out is not healthy.
posted by wkearney99 at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2010

It sort of makes sense, for maybe young college kids to do this. Kinda at that point where you know a lot, but havent done a lot, in the mistake-department. Still where they aren't really getting bad hangovers yet, and probably not around real, long term drinkers yet that know what a dangerous thing it can be. It can be a shock at first, something happened with me and I wasn't there, yknow, and denial is a common way to deal.

If (and only if) these are real friends, you need to take care of each other, and encourage them to have a little more of a plan, so everyone can have fun and not end up babysitters. Be like 'hey yall, try for the marathon, not the sprint'. If it becomes 'not worth it', or they are mean and violent, let them know, and then they'll figure it out one way or another, that is pretty much assured. I'd expect them to either grow out of that sort of attitude, or have pretty crappy lives.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 6:03 AM on December 22, 2010

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