Blackouts and Memory Lapses

Posted by Craig Penrod | Sep 09, 2013 | 0 Comments

Alcohol can produce detectable impairments in memory after only a few drinks and, as the amount of alcohol increases, so does the degree of impairment. Large quantities of alcohol, especially when consumed quickly and on an empty stomach, can produce a blackout, or an interval of time for which an intoxicated person cannot recall key details of events, or even entire events.

Blackouts are much more common among social drinkers than previously assumed.  Of 772 college undergraduates surveyed about their experiences with blackouts, 51% reported blacking out at some point in their lives and 40% reported experiencing a blackout in the year before the survey.  Drinkers who experience blackout typically drink too much and too quickly.  Equal numbers of men and women reported experiencing blackouts, despite the fact that the the men drank significantly more often and more heavily than the women. This outcome suggests that regardless of the amount of alcohol consumption, females—a group infrequently studied in the literature on blackouts—are at greater risk than males for experiencing blackouts. A woman's tendency to black out more easily probably results from differences in how men and women metabolize alcohol. Females also may be more susceptible than males to milder forms of alcohol–induced memory impairments, even when men and women consume comparable amounts of alcohol.  White, A.M.; Jamieson–Drake, D.W.; and Swartzwelder, H.S. Prevalence and correlates of alcohol–induced blackouts among college students: Results of an e–mail survey. Journal of American College Health 51:117–131, 2002.

Signs you may have had a blackout:

  • Don't know where you are
  • Can't remember where your car is parked
  • Doesn't know who is in the bed with you
  • Cannot remember what happened the night before
  • Sporadic blank spots in memory from the previous day

Strategies To Prevent Blackouts

The stomach has only a few square feet of surface area to use to absorb liquids, but the small intestine has many thousands of square feet for the purpose of absorbing liquids because it is covered with villi. When you eat a meal then you cause the valve between the stomach and the intestine to close for several hours.  This greatly slows the influx of alcohol into the bloodstream and prevents BAC spikes.

If you drink a lot of water before you have any alcohol then you will not be thirsty. If you are not thirsty then you will drink more slowly and not spike your BAC as much.

Pace Yourself
Slow down your drinking speed. One way to do this is to alternate non-alcoholic drinks with alcoholic drinks. Another technique is to time your drinks with your watch.

Weaker Drinks
Avoid drinking straight shots of booze if you have blackouts. As a general rule, the weaker the drink the longer it will take to drink it. Strong tasting drinks also often take longer to drink than tasteless ones. For example most people will drink a gin martini more slowly than a vodka martini.

Many people have blackouts if they drink alcohol when they are sleep deprived. Being well rested before you drink will help you to avoid having alcoholic blackouts.

Don't Mix Booze and Meds
Many medications can greatly increase your chance of blackouts if you drink on them. Some can even kill you if you drink on them. Medications which commonly lead to blackouts when mixed with alcohol include narcotic painkillers such as codeine, non-narcotic painkillers and nearly all sleep aids including antihistamines like Benadryl and prescription sleep aids like ambien.

Avoid Dumbness
Things like drinking games or beer bongs can spike your BAC very quickly–if you have problems with blackouts then stay away from these.

The Law Office of Craig W. Penrod has been involved in criminal and DUI defense for more than 25 years. Craig is certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a Certified Criminal Law Specialist, is AV® rated, the highest rating by Martindale Hubbell®, is listed in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers®, and has been selected for inclusion in Southwest Super Lawyers Editions 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Craig W. Penrod for a free initial legal consultation if you find yourself facing criminal or DUI charges.

About the Author

Craig Penrod

Craig W. Penrod was born and raised in Arizona and has practiced criminal defense for over 30 years. Mr. Penrod is a member of the State Bar of Arizona, Maricopa County Bar Association, State of Nevada Bar Association, American Bar Association, American Trial Lawyers Association, Arizona Trial Lawyers Association, Nevada Trial Lawyers Association, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.


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