Combatting “Blackout” Culture

By Corey Bryton

Across college campus nationwide, “blackout” drinking is rampant. A “blackout” occurs when someone drinks so heavily that they lose memory of that time. Even though most college students do not drink with the intention of impairing their memory, it still occurs frequently.

Researchers at Brown University sought to investigate what college students know about what causes blackouts and the culture of blacking out. Three separate studies were carried out using several focus groups of college students. In the first study, it was found that most participants were aware that heavy drinking at a fast pace contributed to alcohol-induced memory loss. That being said, not many students knew that biological factors and mixing alcohol with other substances also can induce blackouts.

In the second study, the participants were asked to describe a person’s reaction when he/she blacks out. The researchers observed a mix of negative and positive reactions. Some referred to blackouts as “scary” while others said they can be “exciting”. Regardless, it was determined that social factors, most specifically the opinions of one’s friends, that influences someone’s perspective of blacking out.

In the third study, the researchers studied the language used to describe “blacking out”. They found that the term “blackout drinking” simply refers to heavy drinking, whereas “a blackout” is a period of time when a drinker loses memory. A “brown-out” is also used to describe periods of incomplete memory loss. Finally, a survey was given to 350 college students, and it was found that 49% experienced some alcohol-induced memory loss in the past month, 32% had only “brown-outs”, 5% had only blackouts, and 14% did not experience any alcohol-related memory loss.

Lead researcher, Kate Carey, hopes that this information can be used to improve alcohol education for college students and to help reduce dangerous drinking habits.

Brown University. (2018, November 2). New studies on student alcohol use can inform interventions to reduce blackouts. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 11, 2018 from