Alcohol-Induced Blackouts as Predictors of Other Drinking Related Harms Among Emerging Young Adults

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2016 Apr;40(4):776-84. doi: 10.1111/acer.13010. Epub 2016 Mar 25.


Background: Alcohol-related blackouts are periods of amnesia that reflect the failure of the brain to record memories of what transpires while drinking. This paper examined the incidence, predictors, and behavioral correlates of blackouts among emerging adults and examined whether questions about blackouts could serve as better markers of risk for other alcohol related harms than questions about levels of consumption.

Methods: In 2012 to 2013, 1,463 (68%) of 2,140 respondents 1-year past high school reported having consumed alcohol. They were asked whether, in the past 6 months because of drinking, they forgot where they were or what they did. The survey also explored demographics, substance use behaviors, and other alcohol-related problems in the past 6 months. Chi-square and logistic regression analyses explored bivariate and multivariate predictors of blackouts and other alcohol-related problems.

Results: Twenty percent of respondents who ever drank alcohol reported a blackout in the past 6 months. Blackouts were more prevalent among females and those who, in the past 30 days, used multiple drugs, more frequently binged, were drunk, smoked, had lower body weight, and lived in college dorms. After controlling for drinking levels, having a blackout was the strongest independent predictor of most other alcohol problems examined, including in the past 6 months because of drinking, missing class or work, getting behind in work or school, doing something respondents later regretted, arguing with friends, experiencing an overdose, and total number of alcohol problems reported. It was also an independent predictor of hangovers, damaging property, getting hurt, and trouble with police.

Conclusions: Because blackouts indicate drinking at levels that result in significant cognitive and behavioral impairment, questions about blackouts could serve as important, simple screeners for the risk of experiencing other alcohol related harms. Additional work on this subject is warranted.

Keywords: Blackouts; Correlates; Emerging Adults; Incidence; Predictors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / trends
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / diagnosis*
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / epidemiology*
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult