Why do I keep passing out?
September 27, 2005 10:18 PM   Subscribe

Three times in the last six months, I've lost consciousness after drinking relatively small amounts (i.e. fewer than four drinks).

Normally my tolerance of alcohol is high but when this happens I feel very ill for days after, as if it's food poisoning. I'm suspicious of cider and white wine, because each time both of these have been involved, but can't put my finger on anything else. The only prescription I use is birth control pills.

During the same time period, I've been out for drinks where I drank more of other things and had no reaction. My boyfriend thinks it's all in my head. Is it time to go to a doctor, and what sort of questions do I ask so they don't just palm me off as a hypochondriac - or worse, an alcoholic?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total)
Food consumption? Are these days where you haven't been eating very much or are very worn out?
posted by devilsbrigade at 10:30 PM on September 27, 2005

There is something going on there that is not normal and I doubt it is all in your head.

My guess is that the doctor will be doing the bulk of the question asking and the best way to prepare is to make note of any reaction (even if it is not severe, just headache, rash, whatever) to other foods/drinks. Try to remember and jot down what you did/ate on those days you became ill. Did you take aspirin, etc. Try to be as prepared as possible. Sorry, I don't have any advice for questions you should ask.
posted by necessitas at 10:37 PM on September 27, 2005

I have had a similar effect (although less severe) based on where I am in my pill cycle. Often, if I drink at the end of my "non-pill-week", I can drink a relatively large amount of alcohol and not experience the usual drunk feeling. At other times (and I can't be more specific because it hasn't happened often enough for me to be able to correlate it) I will drink one drink and be very very tipsy. Hangover effects are different too. I have noticed a general difference based on pill intake, but I haven't done enough self- experimentation to be able to say definitively that alcohol always affects me a particular way when I am at a particular time in my pill cycle. I usually just chalk it up to varying hormone levels and leave it at that- I have no scientific basis for this, and don't have enough biochem background to suggest what, if any, mechanism might be affected here.

Because you are losing consciousness, I wouldn't want to suggest self-experimentation to see if this might be part of the issue for you as well. I would recommend a doctor visit, and perhaps you might ask about a potential allergy, especially if it is one type of drink that may be involved. Your doctor may be able to indicate if hormone levels in your body might be affecting your ability to metabolize alcohol. You may also want to try and recall other food or drink you were eating the days these incidents happened, and when it didn't happen to see if there is another commonality you can discuss with your doctor. Good luck.
posted by Cyrie at 10:46 PM on September 27, 2005

I definitely think unexplained unconsciousness is something to see a doctor about.
posted by hattifattener at 11:09 PM on September 27, 2005

Err, I would be wondering if there was any chance your drinks were tampered with on those three occasions. Were you going out for drinks on those days too, or drinking at home?
posted by Pigpen at 12:19 AM on September 28, 2005

I definitely think unexplained unconsciousness is something to see a doctor about.

Yes, yes, yes. Your body has many defense mechanisms to use against intrusive substances, and losing consciousness is not really one of them (except perhaps that it keeps you from drinking more), it's more of a shutdown that occurs when the shit hits the fan, usually in response to damage. Keep in mind that things mix in strange ways, e.g. cocaine and alcohol together is far worse for the heart than either are alone. I wouldn't rule out your birth control (or your morning toast) without talking to an M.D. The key point is that loss of consciousness is a big deal in medicine. If you ever get a neuro-check (say, after hitting your head), the first question they ask is, "Did you lose consciousness?" because it is the most important.
posted by dsword at 12:20 AM on September 28, 2005

Ruled out Rohypnol? GHB?
posted by Neiltupper at 2:12 AM on September 28, 2005

exactly what i was thinking neiltupper...
posted by whatitis at 5:47 AM on September 28, 2005

Perhaps you're allergic to something in those drinks? I have an alcohol allergy which is better with some drinks and worse with others.
posted by Serena at 6:14 AM on September 28, 2005

Have you talked to a doctor? Have you had a liver function test? Cheap and easy, and may answer your questions.
posted by bonehead at 6:16 AM on September 28, 2005

This sounds very very much as if you've had your drinks tampered with. You need a new boyfriend.
posted by jellicle at 6:23 AM on September 28, 2005

You said that the pill is the only prescription med you take, but what about non-prescription? I find have to be very careful about timing when I take sudafed (chronic allergies.) The sudafed will inhibit the feeling of intoxication until it wears off, at which point the booze will hit me like a truck. Not a mistake I care to repeat.

This could be a reaction to hormones, fatigue, stress mixed with alcohol. Some kinds of alcohol will treat you worse than others, particularly if your body is already unhappy. Pay attention to what you're eating and drinking and whether you're getting yourself run down.

But three times in six months is a lot. Don't leave your drink unattended. With anyone.
posted by desuetude at 6:26 AM on September 28, 2005

Agreed with desuetude on the cold medications - I had a nasty cold and was taking Sudafed for it. Made the mistake of drinking a beer and I found myself feeling downright drunk after it, which is nowhere near what usually happens. I'm very glad I didn't drink any more that night, as at that rate three or four beers would have certainly knocked me out and left me miserable for the next day [at least].

Three times in six months is too many, though. Ditto everyone else - make very very sure your drink is never unattended, try remembering whether lesser amounts [one or two drinks] of white wine and cider cause negative effects, and talk to your doctor.
posted by ubersturm at 7:04 AM on September 28, 2005

After you rule out the scarier possibilities, you might see an allergist. Though cider and white wine are usually the go-to for people with wheat or malt sensitivities, you never know.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:05 AM on September 28, 2005

I think you should look into what neiltupper said. A question to ask is who have you been drinking with?
posted by sic at 7:19 AM on September 28, 2005

Cold medication can do this. Any chance you had the sniffles on those occasions?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:34 AM on September 28, 2005

Oh, and most doctors will assume that you are underplaying the amount you drink (because most people do,) and that you passed out because you were schnockered, since what you describe sounds like a rough hangover. Now, if there are other symptoms that make it sound like something more specific, that's a different story.
posted by desuetude at 8:54 AM on September 28, 2005

I wouldn't be so quick to say it's roofies. This used to happen to me, particularly when I was on the Pill. (Though not always after drinking.) You don't describe the episodes themselves, but for me, I knew about a minute beforehand that I was going to pass out. It began with a buzzing feeling at the base of my skull. Then I'd lose my peripheral vision. Finally, I'd feel so totally exhausted that I just *had* to lie down, no matter where it was. (Including a busy sidewalk in the middle of NYC.)

When I went to the doctor, she gave me all sorts of EKG-type tests, and decided it was vasovagal syncope:

Although it is particularly common...among young women, it is seen across all ages and genders and in otherwise completely healthy people. It is triggered by a number of factors, including prolonged standing, alcohol, fatigue, hunger, and anxiety. Vasovagal syncope is caused by low heart rate and blood pressure, leading to inadequate circulation. The reduced oxygen supply to the brain results in syncope, or temporary loss of consciousness. Individuals usually regain consciousness within a few minutes and their prognosis is good, although the syncope has a tendency to recur.

Eventually my episodes occurred less frequently, and when they did, I could stop them during the prodromal period (see the Wiki entry). I never took meds to treat it.

Obviously, you should go to a doctor. But in my layman's opinion, this could be what's causing your fainting.
posted by veronica sawyer at 9:30 AM on September 28, 2005

Rohypnol or GHB were my first instinct, too.
posted by ori at 1:45 PM on September 28, 2005

I used to be a pretty heavy drinker with a high tolerance... up to a 750ml bottle of vodka a night with little-to-no ill effects, for instance.

Then one fateful NYE I drank waaaay too much, passed out at home and missed out on all the fun. Often since then, it seems my tolerance has completely disappeared. I'll get pretty tossed after, say, 4 drinks in ~2 hours or so.

I have no idea is this is relevant or not to your situation, but I thought I'd share just in case. I don't take any medicines, prescription or otherwise.
posted by starscream at 2:32 PM on September 28, 2005

I did forget to mention that I've never blacked out on booze until after that NYE night...

Now, 3 years later at age 33, I'll lose consciousness a few times a year. It's freaky. :(
posted by starscream at 2:34 PM on September 28, 2005

neurological changes are often linked with menstrual cycles, in general - women who suffer from seizures or migraines often find things worse around the time of their period. So it might be worth paying attention to that.
posted by mdn at 5:31 AM on September 29, 2005

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