Most of us have all been there. Or at least we were told by others that we were when we awoke in the morning with our arms wrapped around a toilet. If we were lucky, we were with friends who were responsible enough to look after our general well-being and put us in front of that toilet and not behind the wheel or worse. Most of us were teenagers the first (hopefully the only) time that this happened to us, and we remember it as an experience that had us bedridden all day the next day. An experience we truly never wanted to experience ever again.
Yet, this is exactly what many teens in the United States are doing, many of them frequently. Studies show that by the time teens reach the age of nineteen over seventy percent of them had already experienced at least one blackout. Nearly half of those same teens had actually blacked out multiple times. Clearly they are not learning their lessons well. More than thirty percent of high school students admit to drinking in the previous thirty days, while more than twenty percent could be classified as binge drinkers, and nearly ten percent drive after drinking. The inevitable consequences of these behaviors could ruin, or take away, a teenager’s entire life in more ways than one.
It is no secret that there are physical repercussions for such excessive drinking. A blackout occurs when a person of any age has a blood alcohol content that is so much higher than what is considered legally drunk. The more alcohol in the blood, the more likely the drinker is to blackout and not remember any incidents of the previous night. Alcohol affects the brain’s prefrontal cortex which is what controls the inhibitions, what helps them to make sound decisions, think rationally, and take into consideration cause and effect. It also plays a role on the sides of the brain where the temporal lobes are, as well as the middle where the hippocampus lies. This section of the brain is the region that stores and forms new memories. When alcohol impairs it to such a degree, the result can be a sometimes devastating case of short-term memory loss. This is why excessive binge drinking leads to blank memories the next day.
There are sexual consequences of drinking to the point of total and complete blacked out intoxication. Drinkers may have unprotected sex leading to unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes and HIV. Women especially put themselves at risk of rape when they become heavily intoxicated in places that should not be considered safe enough to do so. The alcohol is so intoxicating that they no longer have the ability to protect themselves as they properly should. For men, much of the risk comes when they become belligerently drunk and find themselves in physically violent fights as a result of poor judgement. Countless times men or even teens end up incarcerated with pending assault charges and black eyes, and in the morning cannot recall why or what exactly happened.
At the very least, many individuals who experience a blackout only suffer consequences of a loss of hours of memories, embarrassment and a horrible headache called a hangover. They will, like many of us had, hear the stories for the rest of their life about their amusing behavior that they will never remember. Those individuals who have to feel that twinge of embarrassment as the worst part of their consequence are the lucky ones. There are many teenagers who are not so lucky. Teenagers have an unhealthy habit of thinking that they are invincible and that the worst will never happen to them. The contradiction to this exaggerated belief of teenagers is evident in the death toll statistics of DUI’s, alcohol poisoning, and alcoholism that arrests them for the rest of their lives. The commonality of blackouts needs to be not just discussed, but addressed on a grand scale so that teenagers can know the risks, parents can know the signs, and together we can work to stop this silent but deadly killer.