Someone who has had a blackout while drinking cannot remember part of their drinking episode. Unfortunately, most people do not understand how dangerous blackouts are, yet up to 50% of drinkers may have an alcohol-related blackout (ARB).

A new study identifying different trajectories of ARBs of drinkers between the ages of 15 and 19, along with predictors of those patterns, has found that certain adolescents are more likely than their peers to drink to the point of blackout and experience the accompanying alcohol-related dangers caused by irresponsible and out-of-control behavior.

Researchers randomly selected 1,402 English teens between the ages of 15 to 19 years old because this age group has the heaviest drinking habits. After four years of studying the group, researchers confirmed their theory that blackouts were common among that age range. They found 30 percent of 15-year-olds were having ARBs. By the time they reached 19, a total of 74 percent were blacking out from excessive alcohol consumption.

The rapid increase of blackouts with age merits cause for concern, especially due to the social acceptability among teens and young adults of binge drinking and drinking to the point of blacking out. This study represents a significant number of drinkers who put not only themselves, but others at risk because of the poor decision making that often comes with blackout drinking.

Marc A. Schuckit, distinguished professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and corresponding author for the study claims:

“Blackouts are likely to occur when the drinker is vulnerable to a range of additional dangerous consequences. Women might have unprotected sex, place themselves in a situation where they can be raped, or not be fully capable of protecting themselves. Men can get into fights, use very bad judgment regarding another person, and are often the driver when BACs associated with blackouts can lead to a car accident. Blackouts are very dangerous for both men and women.”

Almost half of the study sample not only had blackouts during the four total years of the study, but also had blackouts at every session in which researchers followed up with them, approximately every one and a half years.

Blackouts occur when a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches a level much higher than what is considered legal intoxication. As BAC increases, drinkers report increases in elation, excitement, and extroversion, while they simultaneously experience fatigue, restlessness, depression, and confusion. Symptoms will fluctuate depending on the drinker’s personality, mood, or genetic susceptibility to intoxication.

From regrets to life-changing mistakes, drinking lowers a person’s inhibitions by affecting the brain. A lot of these changes take place in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is the region responsible for decision-making, rational thought, and understanding an action’s cause and effect. Drinking also affects the hippocampus. It’s the region of the brain responsible for forming new memories. Drinking will reduce the ability for the hippocampus to function properly, helping to explain why blackouts stifle the creation of memories.

A young person’s brain is not fully developed until around the age of 25. Study results show that blackouts are common and repetitive in both the teen and young adult drinking populations. This suggests that young people may not have the functional ability to make healthful decisions with regard to drinking. Teens are particularly susceptible to peer pressure and advertising.

A recent study provides evidence of a strong association between alcohol advertising and youth drinking behavior concluding:

There is a robust relationship between youth’s brand-specific exposure to alcohol advertising on television and their consumption of those same alcohol brands during the past 30 days.

No matter what country, when teens are drinking, it is unlikely that they will appreciate the full consequences of their actions. Drinking to the point of having blackouts is dangerous and this message needs to be better communicated and discussed with young people.