Blackouts from alcohol and how to avoid them

By Posted in Health

In this article from 2015, Club Soda member Claire shares her experience of alcoholic blackouts. This article was updated in 2021.

I talk about my relationship with alcohol a lot. It’s my job. I run projects with young people about it. I meet people, and when asked what I do, end up talking about alcohol. I’m at a party, and it more often than not comes up. I talk about those moments I regret and feel shame, I talk about how I quit and how I started again. And how I learn to moderate and if it’s possible at all. I talk about what feelings I drank on. I talk about society and culture and health and happiness. I talk about tips to make it through a night sober. I talk about the fun nights out when I drank water and danced more than I ever did. I talk about great alternative drinks to alcohol.

What I never did, was talk about the things I couldn’t remember. But blacking out was something I had done for as long as I had been drinking. I chose to live by the mantra “If I couldn’t remember, it didn’t happen”. But my stomach would flip with dread when waking up the morning after. With my eyes creaking open, head throbbing, I worked through my checklist:

It’s hard to sit here and write this article. Until a few weeks ago, blackouts are not something that I wished to open up about. It’s in those moments that I most violently self loathed. I’d give up on myself so entirely, it didn’t matter if I was hurt, if I was in danger, if I died.

In the last few years of learning to self-love, I have purposefully managed to skirt around the topic of blacking out. I know that opening up this pandora’s box of suffocated emotions is going to cause upheaval.

However, a few weeks ago an article appeared in The Guardian, “Everyone has blackouts, don’t they?” As I sat and read Sarah Hepola’s story, I felt winded with emotion, reading a story that has been mine, that could have been mine if I continued to drink the way I did. I ordered her book and read it in a few days, hungry to connect.

Recently, I sat with a 24-year-old guy and talked about blacking out. On a Saturday. At 10 am. As we sat there swapping stories, when a few years ago I would be waking up to those familiar fears, thoughts and shame, I braced myself for the worst. What happened was an honest conversation with another person who knew exactly how I felt.

What is blacking out?

“I always thought blacking out was passing out,” says Club Soda co-founder Laura. “So I was okay, I never did that. But it seems I did have blackouts. I don’t remember falling into a taxi and breaking my leg. That is a blackout. I had lots of them.”

So what is happening when you have a blackout?

How to prevent a blackout?

If you are going to drink, here are eight top tips for prevent blackouts:

  1. Eat. Eating a meal before a night out causes the valve between the stomach and the intestine to close for several hours, slowing the intake of alcohol into the bloodstream and prevents BAC spikes.
  2. Hydrate. If you’re less thirsty, you’re less likely to drink as quickly. Load up on the water before a big night out.
  3. Pace yourself. Slow down. Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Hydrate with water! Research shows that people try to match sipping patterns with the people around them.
  4. Drink weaker drinks. Ask at the bar about their low ABV beers, and other alcohol-free drinks. Go from doubles to singles. Avoid shots – there’s nothing moderate about them. One Club Soda member buys one pint and a pint of lemonade that he spends the evening topping up. He’s constantly got a fresh drink in his hand, but finishes the night with just one beer!
  5. Rest. Do not underestimate the importance of sleep. Going out on a lack of sleep often leads to blackouts.
  6. Don’t mix booze and drugs. This one is nothing new, but most people ignore the recommendation to not drink while on medication. Educate yourself about interactions and take the warnings seriously.
  7. Avoid drinking games. Or playing catch up. It means drinking fast and a lot in a short space of time.
  8. Get support. When out, tell a buddy that you’re going out and concerned. Get them to check in with you or tell a mate who you’re with what’s going on. Give yourself a time to bow out gracefully.

If your blackouts are too much to handle and starting to have a negative impact on your life, it’s time to rethink your relationship with alcohol. Club Soda’s courses are a good first step, including our free course How to Change Your Drinking.


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