Majority of Teens Experience Drunken ‘Blackout’ by Age 19

By Victoria Kim 01/12/15

A team of researchers conducted a first-of-its-kind study and found some disturbing results.

Drunk teenager passed out

Blacking out while drunk is dangerous and young drinkers should take care to avoid it, said a team of UC San Diego researchers, who found that a majority of adolescents experience a blackout at least once by age 19.

The team looked at data on 1,402 drinking adolescents in England when they were between ages 15 and 19. This is the first study to examine blackout trajectories over time for this age group, which was selected because the heaviest drinking usually occurs between ages 15 and 22, according to the researchers.

Ninety percent of the adolescents had drank to the point of blackout at least once by age 19, and around half of them had blacked out multiple times.

The researchers also examined what may predict a blackout, including demographic factors, impulsive-like characteristics, and peer substance use. They found that adolescents most likely to report blackouts were smokers, had impulsive-like characteristics, higher estimated peer-substance involvement, and were female, which the researchers attribute to weight differences.

“No matter what country, when kids are drinking, they are not likely to understand what is going on with their systems and how dangerous it can be,” said Marc A. Schuckit, professor of psychiatry at the UC San Diego and corresponding author for the study.

Alcohol is a depressant, and at high enough doses, depressants impair memory acquisition, or a momentary shutdown of memory storage. “Blacking out is always bad news, because it is more or less synonymous with losing your mind for a substantial period of time,” John Ericson wrote for Medical Daily. “During a blackout, you approach every new context as a blank, inaccessible slate, incapable of forming any hard memories.”

Schuckit said it’s a serious problem. “Kids have to recognize the problem of blackouts themselves and take steps to change behaviors,” he said. “We need to identify something they can recognize in themselves and their peers so they can learn to modify their behaviors, because blackouts are dangerous, prevalent, and persistent.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr