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College Student Knowledge of Blackouts and Implications for Intervention

Blackouts are experienced by many college students and significantly increase the risk for alcohol-related harm. However, few college students are aware of the risk factors that lead to blackouts.


A study conducted eight focus group discussions between college students to gather information on this topic, as well as to gain student insight on how to effectively approach prevention efforts towards student alcohol use.


Analysis of the discussion showed that many students associated drinking on an empty stomach with higher risk for blackout. A few students referred to biological sex as a difference in risk, as well as body type. However, no students readily identified biological or genetic factors as being risk-related.


As far as drinking behaviors that lead to blackouts, each group was aware that consuming more drinks in a shorter time increases likelihood of experiencing a blackout. They also associated drinking more than usual and drinking hard liquor with blackouts. Students also reported that if they were unsure what they were drinking or combined multiple types of alcohol they perceived increased risk.


Some indirect influences on drinking were viewed as risk factors for blackouts as well. Inexperience with alcohol, peer and cultural pressures to drink heavily, pregaming, drinking games, availability of alcohol, motives such as celebration, and emotions such as discomfort or anxiety were all viewed as risk factors.


These students provided ideas on how to prevent college students from experiencing blackouts. They suggested having conversations with friends while sober, or expressing subtle disapproval when friends tell stories or talk about not remembering their night. As far as action of campus officials, students suggested that universities could focus on creating a safe drinking environment and aim to change drinking culture so that students are aware of the risks of binge drinking and blackouts.


Take Away: Though college students are aware of some risk factors of blackouts, there are gaps in the knowledge when it comes to biologic factors. Their insight can be used to formulate prevention efforts toward student drinking and blackouts.


Miller, M. B., Merrill, J. E., Singh, S., et al. (2018). College student knowledge of blackouts and implications for alcohol intervention: A qualitative analysis. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.


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