From Blackout Drinking to Addiction

University of North Carolina senior Ashton Katherine Carrick recently defined the “aspirational blackout” as “intentionally drinking with the goal of submersing yourself in so much alcohol that you can’t remember what happened and the only vestiges that remain from the night before are the videos on your friends’ phones.”

Carrick’s identification of stress as the primary trigger propelling college students to numb out by ingesting excessive quantities of alcohol is terrifying. She notes that college binge drinkers on a mission to black out simply assume someone will watch over them and help deliver them home safely.

Really? Impaired by their own drunkenness, your friends won’t leave you for dead in the middle of a snowstorm to continue their own pursuit of a good time? I’d have loved that campus.

Hey, kids? If you think you’re looking out for one another, know this: You’re not. Alcohol is metabolized differently by everyone. Amid the chaos of a campus booze fest, you’re not watching each other closely enough to know how much anyone has consumed. And, half the time you don’t even know what’s in the ridiculous concoctions you’re chugging.

Let’s be real. Those who consciously choose to lose control of themselves in the way Ms. Carrick describes need to prepare for the worst. It is absolutely possible to overdose on beer. And wine. And vodka. And mass produced, high-proof, Smurf-colored punch served from garbage bags. And every other kind of alcohol.

Just because alcohol is legal doesn’t mean it can’t kill. Just because it’s more attainable than hard drugs doesn’t make it less potent. Consider the following:

• Alcohol poisoning kills six people every day.
• Teen alcohol use kills 4,700 people each year — that’s more than all illegal drugs combined. (MADD)
• Students who black out report learning later that they had participated in a wide range of potentially dangerous events they could not remember, including vandalism, unprotected sex, and driving. (NIAAA)

I can binge on research and puke out statistics all day. Will it change the mindsets of the college crowd too stressed out to care, those convinced they’re immune from all the bad things that only happen to other people? Probably not.

Leaving home for the first time and going away to college is tough. Adjusting to the freedom from parental oversight is a big deal. Coursework is challenging. College is the time to meet new people and have fun together. Work hard, play hard. Absolutely. Try new things, including alcohol. Because, there are plenty of people in this world who can drink responsibly.

However, to those who think the stress of college is so huge that they have to infuse their bloodstreams with mind-numbing levels of poison to relax and escape the pressure, I have one thing to say: You ain’t seen nothing yet.

To those who think achieving a weekly, or more frequent, blackout is the only way to manage the burden college has placed on their shoulders, let me be clear: You will not survive adulthood. I take that back. You’ll probably survive. But, you will not thrive. High functioning alcoholics can only keep their crap in order for so long before it all comes crashing down. And, this blackout behavior gorgeously foreshadows full-blown addiction.

Here’s another tidbit: “Chronic heavy drinking can cause insidious damage to the brain, even in people who never seem intoxicated or obviously addicted. Experts say alcohol-related brain damage is underdiagnosed and often confused with Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia or just getting older.” (WSJ) Ultimately, the blackouts won’t be the only unrecoverable memories. It could be a sober conversation from 24 hours earlier. Trust me on this one.

Despite what we think when we’re in college, drunken escapades and blackouts are not badges of honor. They are neither brag worthy nor commendable. Rites of passage? Into what? No. Binge drinking is utter foolishness with the potential to not only lead to addiction but also cause permanent mental impairment, even death.

It’s hard to be forward thinking in college, to imagine anything less than sunshine and roses after graduation. No one aspires to become an addict. Students are way too preoccupied with FOMO and YOLO to anticipate the future.

At 45, I am not living the life my innocent, privileged, misguided, uninformed, binge drinking, blacking out college self dreamed of. I am a married mom of two (that’s the part I always wanted). I work because I have to. It’s taken nearly 10 years of blood, sweat, tears, and near bankruptcy to build my business to profitability. I am a self-employed, work-my-ass-off-every-day gal who can’t always pay the bills on time. In my practically nonexistent spare time I write about my recovery from alcohol addiction. That was never my plan.

If your parents didn’t tell you, I will. The consequences of excessive and irresponsible alcohol consumption in college are far more severe and long lasting than vomiting, blackouts, hangovers, sexual assaults, and DUIs. No one warned me. And, it’s too late to reverse the damage.


Also published on Medium.

6 comments

  1. Hi Laura, Loved your article. I would like to share this on a facebook page I have for my book “Captain, My Captain”. It is my side of the story of loving an alcoholic. I think that we can not talk enough about this epidemic that takes so many lives and leaves so many impaired for life. We need to stand up and have them listen to our stories.

    1. Hi, Linda – thank you! Yes, please share it. I am searching for your Facebook page and can’t find it – would you please share a link here? I would love to learn more about and read your book.

      1. Thank you Laura. Just click on find friends on facebook and type in- Captain, My Captain, the true story of loving an alcoholic. If anyone would like to get a copy it is sold at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or message me and I can send anyone a signed copy. There are choices that you make with drinking alcohol and people should be aware of the consequences of their choice.

  2. Great article and spot on. I have multiple scars on my body as a result of blackout drinking. Some of them didn’t require another’s recall of events from the evening before. They were too obvious. Grateful recovering alcoholic today. When I hear of friends kids heading off to College for their first year, a part of me inside winces at the thought of them experimenting with alcohol , with no one looking out for them.

    1. Thank you so much, Tom. For those of us who’ve been there, the memories are so fresh and the wounds, though physically healed, still hurt. I appreciate you reading and sharing your thoughts.

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