Many college students who drink have experienced blackouts, which are defined as fragmented or complete memory loss for a period of time while drinking. A study surveyed 50 college students from traditional four-year colleges in the northeastern U.S., all of whom had experienced a blackout in the past six months.
These students were split into small groups by gender and were asked subjective questions on their overall impression of blackouts. The students were recorded and the data was coded to identify trends.
Overall, blackouts were described negatively. However, some students did seem to feel neutral or positive towards blackouts. The data showed that three main factors influenced the students’ perceptions of blackouts: social norms, immediate social context, and discussions with friends. How acceptable blackouts are in one’s friend circle and social environment have a big influence on how he or she feels about blackouts.
This study was the first to qualitatively evaluate college students’ subjective definitions of blackouts. This data was consistent with past work in this subject by showing that most students felt that blackouts are negative experiences. However, a minority of the subjects felt positively towards blackouts, and that they are a sign of “having a good time”.
The main limitation of this study is the small homogenous sample of students who were surveyed. Continuing to gather more students’ subjective evaluations of blackouts may help explain the prevalence of this problematic result of drinking in the future.
Take away: Many college students experience blackouts as a result of drinking, and these periods of memory loss are often perceived negatively. Social norms, immediate social context, and discussions with friends have the largest influence on how individual students subjectively define blackouts.
Merrill, J.E., Miller, M.B., DiBello, A.M, Singh, S., and Carey, K.B. (2018). How do college students subjectively evaluate “blackouts”? Addictive Behaviors, 89. Pages 65-69. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.09.022