HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol

How To Prevent Alcoholic Blackouts

brain Alcohol induced blackouts generally tend to occur when the alcohol in your bloodstream spikes too high and too rapidly. This exposes your brain to a sudden spike in BAC (blood alcohol content). Most people can avoid alcohol blackouts fairly easily by following a few simple drinking rules to avoid spiking their BAC.

However, some people may have a great deal more difficulty in avoiding alcoholic blackouts than other people do. These include people who have had gastric bypass surgery, people with long histories of severe alcohol abuse and withdrawal, and people with genetic irregularities in their alcohol metabolism.

If you tend to black out very frequently when you drink even if you drink small amounts of alcohol then alcohol abstinence may be your best drinking goal. Marijuana maintenance is a realistic option for people who have too many problems with alcoholic blackouts or with alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Strategies To Prevent Blackouts

The stomach has only a few square feet of surface area to use to absorb liquids, but the small intestine has many thousands of square feet for the purpose of absorbing liquids because it is covered with villi. When you eat a meal then you cause the valve between the stomach and the intestine to close for several hours--this greatly slows the influx of alcohol into the bloodstream and prevents BAC spikes.

If you drink a lot of water before you have any alcohol then you will not be thirsty. If you are not thirsty then you will drink more slowly and not spike your BAC so much.

Pace Yourself
Slow down your drinking speed. One way to do this is to alternate non-alcoholic drinks with alcoholic drinks. Another technique is to time your drinks with your watch.

Weaker Drinks
Avoid drinking straight shots of booze if you have blackouts. As a general rule, the weaker the drink the longer it will take to drink it. Strong tasting drinks also often take longer to drink than tasteless ones. For example most people will drink a gin martini more slowly than a vodka martini.

Many people have blackouts if they drink alcohol when they are sleep deprived. Being well rested before you drink will help you to avoid having alcoholic blackouts.

Drinking in a strange environment can reduce your tolerance to alcohol and increase the likelihood of blackouts. Drinking in a familiar environment is a way to avoid this. See Alcohol, Individual and Environment for a discussion of this phenomenon.

Don't Mix Booze and Meds
Many medications can greatly increase your chance of blackouts if you drink on them. Some can even kill you if you drink on them. Medications which commonly lead to blackouts when mixed with alcohol include narcotic painkillers such as codeine, non-narcotic painkillers like aspirin, and nearly all sleep aids including antihistamines like Benadryl and prescription sleep aids like ambien. For more info on the interactions of medications and alcohol please see Alcohol-related Drug Interactions.

Avoid Dumbness
Things like drinking games or beer bongs can spike your BAC very quickly--if you have problems with blackouts then stay away from these.

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