How Dangerous Are Blackouts on College Campuses? What A Recent Study Found

A study out of Brown University (2018) investigated the effects of blackout drinking in college students in order to understand how to reduce high-risk outcomes. Investigators disclosed that prior research discovered, “between 30 and 50 percent of young adults who drink regularly report that they have experienced alcohol-related memory impairment in the past year, whether full “blackouts,” where they can’t remember anything for a period of time, or “brownouts” – on-and-off memory loss, where memories may be recovered with reminders.” After conducting the three-part study, researchers found that college students who drink alcohol don’t typically intend to drink to the point that they “blackout,” and they also don’t fully grasp what specific drinking behaviors present the greatest risk of blackouts. 

Kate Carey, the principal study investigator, and professor at Brown’s School of Public Health states, “Even though we don’t yet know what long-term effects having a blackout has on the brain, we do know that having alcohol-related memory impairment is associated with other negative consequences.” The study found that college students experienced consequences ranging from hangovers and fights to overdoses, mental health problems, unprotected sex, and sexual assault. Researchers hope to use the results from these studies to develop additional alcohol prevention programs that specifically address the risks of the high-volume, fast-paced drinking that is likely to lead to blackouts.

Blackouts, Addiction, and Treatment

So what is a blackout? A blackout is a temporary condition that involves memory loss due to alcohol or drug abuse. It is most common with drinking too much alcohol (binge drinking) and typically happens at around the blood alcohol content of .16 – give or take depending upon the person’s size and other factors. Physiologically, your blood alcohol level gets higher and higher during this period of heavy drinking, and eventually crosses the blood-brain barrier where it targets the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory and emotions. Before you know it, a blackout occurs. 

Two types of blackouts can occur during this time: a partial blackout, where visual or verbal cues can help someone remember forgotten events or a complete blackout where even with cues, the person is unlikely to recall what happened during this time. Although having a single blackout may not be a sign of a drinking problem, having multiple blackouts can be a sign of an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). If you or someone you know has experienced alcohol-induced blackouts or is struggling with alcohol use, get help now. Make the life-saving decision to get help today and call Daylight Recovery Services at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.