Inspired by our Supreme Court nominee I've been studying up on blackout drinking. I can't gauge other people's expectations but apparently blacking out is somewhat common but hardly inevitable among social drinkers (40% of college age drinkers reported a blackout in previous year). What does it mean for Kavanaugh and his claim that he has never blacked out? I don't know.
Blackouts Among Social Drinkers
Most of the research conducted on blackouts during the past 50 years has involved surveys, interviews, and direct observation of middle–aged, primarily male alcoholics, many of whom were hospitalized. Researchers have largely ignored the occurrence of blackouts among young social drinkers, so the idea that blackouts are an unlikely consequence of heavy drinking in nonalcoholics has remained deeply entrenched in both the scientific and popular cultures. Yet there is clear evidence that blackouts do occur among social drinkers. Knight and colleagues (1999) observed that 35 percent of trainees in a large pediatric residency program had experienced at least one blackout. Similarly, Goodwin (1995) reported that 33 percent of the first–year medical students he interviewed acknowledged having had at least one blackout. “They were inexperienced,” he wrote. “They drank too much too quickly, their blood levels rose extremely quickly, and they experienced amnesia” (p. 315). In a study of 2,076 Finnish males, Poikolainen (1982) found that 35 percent of all males surveyed had had at least one blackout in the year before the survey.
As might be expected given the excessive drinking habits of many college students (Wechsler et al. 2002), this population commonly experiences blackouts. White and colleagues (2002c) recently surveyed 772 undergraduates regarding their experiences with blackouts. Respondents who answered yes to the question “Have you ever awoken after a night of drinking not able to remember things that you did or places that you went?” were considered to have experienced blackouts. Fifty–one percent of the students who had ever consumed alcohol reported blacking out at some point in their lives, and 40 percent reported experiencing a blackout in the year before the survey. Of those who had consumed alcohol during the 2 weeks before the survey, 9.4 percent reported blacking out during this period. Students in the study reported that they later learned that they had participated in a wide range of events they did not remember, including such significant activities as vandalism, unprotected intercourse, driving an automobile, and spending money.
During the 2 weeks preceding the survey, an equal percentage of males and females experienced blackouts, despite the fact that males drank significantly more often and more heavily than females. This outcome suggests that at any given level of alcohol consumption, females—a group infrequently studied in the literature on blackouts—are at greater risk than males for experiencing blackouts. The greater tendency of females to black out likely arises, in part, from well–known gender differences in physiological factors that affect alcohol distribution and metabolism, such as body weight, proportion of body fat, and levels of key enzymes. There also is some evidence that females are more susceptible than males to milder forms of alcohol–induced memory impairments, even when given comparable doses of alcohol (Mumenthaler et al. 1999).