Alcohol-Induced Blackouts

Alcohol-induced blackouts – seriously — they can’t remember what they did or said?

It is not uncommon for me to receive emails and blog post comments like these:

“My partner has physically attacked me and last Sunday shoved me down the stair case and then stood on top of me and continued to punch and kick me. My only grace is that I’m ok, God to thank for that. But the next day, he asked me what happened. Why was I not talking to him, and the likes. I’m so confused. Is it really true or possible that he did not know what he was doing at the time and not remember any of it?” Chris

“How much of what was said or done during their blackout period is truth, surfacing from a deeper psychological place because there’s no filters now, or that when sober they could control verbally expressing it?” Pat

“Something similar happened to me this past weekend, but luckily it was all verbal and not physical. My boyfriend doesn’t have memory of it either and says he doesn’t mean any of the things he said. At the time I was sure that I would force him to move out, but he has agreed to never drink again. I just don’t understand how a person can change into a completely different person just by drinking. I wish I could be sure that he doesn’t mean any of things he said.” Ana

Alcohol-Induced Blackouts

Understanding Alcohol-Induced Blackouts Can Help You Decide What You Will Do When Confronted with the Behaviors

As with many of the topics on which I write, I can personally relate to what others share with me about their experiences with a loved one’s drinking behaviors – behaviors the loved one (or total stranger, for that matter) claims not to remember or is fuzzy on the details of what they do remember of the incident.

In my case, it was a loved one’s attempt to kill me by strangulation when a confrontation escalated. And while my loved one’s memory of the horrific moments leading up to, during, and following this attempt are very fuzzy, it was his only response to any and all of what happened next that is telling. Here’s what he said a week after the event (we hadn’t had any communication about the incident during that intervening week), “If you’d apologize for what you did to make me mad enough to do what I did then we can go back to normal.” Seriously — that was the extent of his side of the “conversation.” You can imagine what my side sounded like.

Sadly, I didn’t understand any of what I now know about how alcohol changes brain function, let alone the idea that a person really can’t remember what they said or did while under the influence. I believed, like so many others, that it was the real him coming out.

Understanding Alcohol-Induced Blackouts

Now don’t get me wrong, just because there’s an explanation doesn’t mean blackouts should be tolerated or excused. NEVER! There is NO EXCUSE.  But understanding blackouts for what they are — “amnesia, or memory loss, for all or part of a drinking episode” —  can help those who are affected by them make better decisions for themselves. In other words — How are they going to talk about it?, What are they going to do about it?, How seriously should they take them?, What can they do to protect themselves from a next time?, etc.

To help with this understanding, I’m sharing the following copy and paste from the Preview of the peer-reviewed study, “Alcohol-Induced Blackouts: A Review of Recent Clinical Research with Practical Implications and Recommendations for Future Studies,” appearing in the May, 2016, issue of the Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research journal. It was written by Reagan R. Wetherill and Kim Fromme.

This study is a “comprehensive, systematic literature review” examining “all articles published between January 2010 through August 2015 that focused on vulnerabilities, consequences, and possible mechanisms for alcohol-induced blackouts.” To rent to read or purchase the full article, click here. Now, to quote from the Preview:

“ALCOHOL USE IS a pervasive problem with well-known deleterious effects on memory. Alcohol-induced memory impairments vary in severity, ranging from mild deficits to alcoholinduced blackouts (Heffernan, 2008; White, 2003). Alcohol-induced blackouts are de?ned as amnesia, or memory loss, for all or part of a drinking episode. During blackout, a person is able to actively engage and respond to their environment; however, the brain is not creating memories for the events. Alcohol-induced blackouts are often confused with passing out from alcohol, but blacking out anpassing out are very different states of consciousness. A person experiencing a blackout is conscious and interacting with his or her environment, whereas a person who has passed out from alcohol has lost consciousness and capacity to engage in voluntary behavior. Memory deficits during blackout are primarily anterograde, meaning memory loss for events that occurred after alcohol consumption (White, 2003). It is important to note that short-term memory remains intact during an alcohol-induced blackout, and as such, an intoxicated person is able to engage in a variety of behaviors, including having detailed conversations and other more complex behaviors like driving a vehicle, but information about these behaviors is not transferred from short-term to long-term memory, which leads to memory deficits and memory loss for these events (White, 2003). There is no objective evidence that a person is in an alcohol-induceblackout (Pressman and Caudill, 2013), and thus, it can be di?cult or impossible to know whether a drinker is experiencing a blackout (Goodwin, 1995). This is similar to the fact that one cannot know whether another person has a headache; the experience is happening inside that person’s brainwith no clear observable indices.”
Wetherill, R. R. and Fromme, K. (2016), Alcohol-Induced Blackouts: A Review of Recent Clinical Research with Practical Implications and Recommendations for Future Studies. Alcohol Clin Exp Res, 40: 922–935. doi:10.1111/acer.13051

Another Key Take-Away…

…is you do not have to be an alcoholic (person with an alcohol use disorder) to experience a blackout. Weekend binge drinkers experience blackouts, as does the first time drinker who drinks far more than their liver can process and their brain can handle.

This fact points to the importance of understanding drinking patterns, what is considered “normal” or “moderate” drinking, and what it takes to change an unhealthy, blackout-producing drinking pattern. This information helps the person wanting to protect themselves from a blackout behavior or stop themselves for engaging in one.

I consider the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAAs) website, “Rethinking Drinking,” one of the best resources for this kind of information.

Secondhand Drinking | Substance Use Disorder – Chidimma Ozor With Lisa Frederiksen

I had the honor of being Chidimma Ozor | the TYPEAhippie’s guest for her first ChiCast podcast of 2017. The podcast topics were substance use disorder and secondhand drinking, which as BreakingThecycles.com readers know are topics near and dear to my heart.

After an enthusiastic pre-interview conversation with Chidimma, in which we discovered our mutual passions for changing the conversations, I visited her website to learn more about her, some of which I’d like to share, first.

Chidimma Ozor – the TYPEAhippie

Like most of us, Chidimma’s journey to “here” took many, seemingly unrelated, twists and turns. After her hard-earned Master’s degree from the University of Michigan failed to net her a job due to the tough economy, Chidimma ended up in Las Vegas. She began her Las Vegas career with event planning, which took her to public relations and eventually led her to be the Communications Director at a local wellness center. Seeking some stability, serenity and spirituality she practiced yoga for the first time in February 2007 and hated it. When she took another yoga class six months later, she fell in love and eventually became a Holy Yoga certified instructor a year later in August 2008. However, her yoga journey came full circle in February 2009 when she taught her first yoga class. Heartfelt gratitude draws her to the yoga community and keeps her there.

Incorporating a yoga-inspired lifestyle has led her to make several radical changes in her life. As a true wellness warrior, she yearns to inspire change in others, much in the same way others have inspired change in her. Her desire is for yoga, specifically, and wellness, in general to transcend all boundaries and be accessible to all. Chidimma is the founder of theTYPEAhippie, which utilizes prayer & meditation, essential oils, yoga therapy, exercise & movement, nutrition, community and love to empower you to thrive. You can find her on Facebook, as well.

And now to our interview…

Lisa Frederiksen on Secondhand Drinking | Substance Use Disorder

Click on this link to listen to Chidimma Ozor's interview with Lisa Frederiksen on Substance Use Disorder and Secondhand Drinking.

Click on this link to listen to Chidimma Ozor’s interview with Lisa Frederiksen on Substance Use Disorder and Secondhand Drinking.

Dear President-Elect Trump – Because Addiction Is Above Politics

Dear President-Elect Trump,

We are writing as Americans who, regardless of political affiliation, are deeply concerned by the addiction crisis ravaging our country. You shared openly how alcoholism devastated your brother Fred’s life. In fact, addiction to alcohol and other drugs impacts 45 million Americans and their families. As you heard during the campaign, 21 million families today are being torn apart by substance use disorders, thousands more bury their children each year- at ever-younger ages, and drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in America. 

This is the opening paragraph of a letter written by Facing Addiction for whom I working to help gather as many signatures as possible to encourage President-Elect Trump to tackle the addiction crisis early in his administration. For as those of us who love someone with a substance use disorder and for those of us who are in the grips of this disease know – addiction is above politics. And we are a force to be listened to because collectively, we represent approximately one-third the American population.

Just how much above politics do we consider addiction to be?

“Supporters of both candidates agreed on only one thing…They gave addiction the highest combined score and the smallest partisan gap of the 13 issues deemed to be the most pressing issues of our country. On that list was terrorism, illegal immigration, climate change, job opportunities and gun violence,” said Jim Hood, Co-Founder of Facing Addiction, in his address November 17, 2016, when the Surgeon General released “The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.”

Think about it – addiction received the smallest partisan gap and the highest combined score as the most pressing issue facing our country!

As I’ve previously written, over 20 million Americans have substance use disorders. That is about the number of people who have diabetes. It is 1.5 times the number of people who are living with all forms of cancer, yet only 10 percent of those struggling with a substance use disorder are getting the treatment they need. Clearly this is a public health crisis.

So please join me in signing Facing Addiction’s letter to President-Elect Trump by clicking here and adding your name, and thank you for signing. Please encourage your friends, family members, and colleagues to sign it, as well.

Holidays Filled With Secondhand Drinking – What to Do

For some, the holidays are warm, fun, happy gatherings with friends and family. But for those whose holidays are filled with secondhand drinking, lurking behind that hope for those kinds of gatherings runs a current of angst, fear, and worry.

Angst, fear, and worry about:

  • how to keep him from drinking too much and picking a fight with any guy who looks at his girlfriend
  • how to keep his wife from nagging him about having another beer, which always turns into a crazy, convoluted, rolling of the eyes argument and an abrupt exit by one of them
  • whether dinner will be served before she passes out and or worse, she passes out in her plate like two Christmases ago
  • him being out partying with his high school buddies home for the holidays and one of them thinking they’re safe to drive after having “just a couple of drinks”
  • her doing it again – getting so drunk she has to be babysat to protect her from wandering off with some guy or passing out while vomiting in the bathroom
  • waking up the next morning crushed by what he said the night before and now acting like he doesn’t remember.

If you are one of the 90 million Americans affected by secondhand drinking, you’ve likely lived one of these scenarios a few times. You’ve likely felt hurt, used, abused, confused and downright angry over having to deal with a family member or friend’s drinking behaviors.

So what is secondhand drinking?

secondhand drinking - the other side of alcohol misuse

It is the other side of alcohol misuse. It is being on the receiving end of a person’s drinking behaviors – whether that person is a family member, co-worker, friend, or stranger-on-the-street.

What are those drinking behaviors?

  • Fighting with friends or family about the drinking; saying or doing things you don’t remember or regret.
  • Driving while under the influence; getting a DUI (DWI); riding in a car driven by someone who has been drinking; crashing into an oncoming car and killing or paralyzing the driver and/or their passengers.
  • Experiencing blackouts – fragmentary or complete; vomiting; passing out.
  • Doing poorly at work or school because of the drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking.
  • Having unplanned unwanted or unprotected sex; committing date rape.
  • Being admitted to the emergency room with a high Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), in addition to the “real” reason (e.g., broken arm, feel down the stairs, auto accident).

And what are the potential secondhand drinking impacts of these drinking behaviors?

Taking just the first three:

  • Being the person trying to defend oneself against the verbal attack that happens when you comment on how they are behaving or disagree with something they’ve said; something that made no sense or was offensive to you.
  • Believing them when they say they’re okay to drive and getting into the car and then finding yourself in the emergency room after they hit a parked car.
  • Taking responsibility for keeping them safe, monitoring them if they pass out, cleaning up their vomit.

So how do you protect yourself from holidays filled with secondhand drinking?

1. Understand that exceeding per occasion “normal” or “low-risk” drinking limits changes the way a person’s brain works. These limits are:

    • For women: 4 or more standard drinks (and sometimes, it is a whole lot less than 4 depending on her weight, any medications she’s taking, stage of brain development and other factors)
    • For men: 5 or more standard drinks (and sometimes, it’s a whole lot less than 5 depending on his weight, stage of brain development and other factors).

2.  Understand how the body processes alcohol – click here for the more complete explanation –  but basically, it takes the liver about one hour to metabolize (rid the body of) the ethyl alcohol chemicals in one standard drink. Six drinks will take six hours, and while it’s waiting its turn out the liver, these ethyl alcohol chemicals “sit” in the brain (and other body organs) and impairs brain function, thereby changing a person’s behaviors. In the case of a DUI, the changed behavior is believing one is safe to drive after drinking alcohol.

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles website, for example, a person weighing 110-129 lbs. and having 2 drinks in an hour will probably have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .08. A person weighing 130-149 lbs. and having 3 drinks in 2 hours will probably have a BAC of .08. And a person weighing 170-189 lbs. and having 4 drinks in 2 hours will also likely have a BAC of .08. A BAC of .08 will result in an arrest for a DUI/DWI. Additionally, even if a person only registers a BAC of .04, he/she can still be charged with a DUI – the charge is driving while impaired.

3.  Know the definition of a standard drink, which means the amount of ethyl alcohol chemical in the alcoholic beverage by volume and type of alcohol is the same; equal to one standard drink. For example, 5 ounces of table wine = 12 ounces of regular beer = 1.5 ounces of vodka and other 80-proof hard liquor = ONE STANDARD DRINK. Many bar pours contain more than one standard drink. A margarita, for example, can contain 2-3.  Check out NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking > “What’s a ‘standard drink?’” and “How many drinks are in common containers?

Knowing this and the information in numbers 1 and 2 can help you appreciate that a person who exceeds these limits is incapable of behaving “normally,” so you will understand that you should not:

  • engage in the argument they insist on having
  • take to heart what they said or did
  • get in the car if they’re planning to drive
  • clean up their vomit (they can do it themselves the next morning)
  • engage in a fist fight if they try to start one
  • start making out with them, unless you want to and are comfortable with where things may progress if they press you further.

Above all, understand that ANYONE — from the first time drinker to the week-end binger to the daily, “just having a few,” to the alcoholic*– ANYONE who drinks more than the brain and body can process can cause secondhand drinking.

And what do you say to someone who drinks too much?

For this, I share the link to one of my most widely read posts, What to Say to Someone Who Drinks Too Much.

©2016 Lisa Frederiksen

*Today, the preferred term is “person with an alcohol use disorder.”

Recovery from Gambling Addiction | Catherine Townsend-Lyon

“Now that gambling addiction is currently the #1 addiction with the highest suicide rate than any other and over 16 million problem gamblers in just the US alone, I want to share some of my story and devastation in my life due to this cunning addiction,” says Catherine Townsend-Lyon, today’s guest author.

Bestselling Kodel Empire Publishing author of the book, Addicted To Dimes: Confessions of a Liar and a CheatCatherine is a freelance recovery writer and a columnist for “In Recovery Magazine’s ‘The Author’s Café’.” She also writes for several addiction/recovery publications, including: “Keys to Recovery” and “The Sober World,” and most recently was a contributor to a major media article published by Time.com and Nautilus.us magazines titled; “Addicted to Anticipation: What goes wrong in the brain chemistry of a gambling addict.” Cathering is an Expert Recovery blogger of Gambling Addiction Recovery for Addictionland and is the author of the blog, Recovery Starts Here A Bet Free and Sober Blog, covering gambling addiction and recovery.

Recovery from Gambling Addiction by Catherine Townsend-Lyon

Catherine Townsend-Lyon shares her story of recovery from gambling addiction.My name is Catherine, and I am a recovering compulsive addicted gambler. Jan 29th, 2007 will be my 10-year mark in recovery, but will never forget where I have come from with gambling addiction. I came from the depths of hell, hopelessness, and despair. Gambling addiction took just about everything from me like family, friends, reputation, jobs, my home, car, almost my marriage and cost me way more than money; it almost cost me my life twice from suicide.

At the same time, I was also suffering from undiagnosed mental & emotional health issues and disorders I had no idea about until 2002. My first failed suicide attempt. I woke up in the hospital with bandages wrapped around both my wrists and could hear two people talking about knives all over the living room as I blacked out again. All I remember was everything going dark in nothingness. Now I know it was a complete mind and body break down. A mental/emotional blackout. From there I went to an addiction/mental crisis center. Was on suicide watch the first few days.

addictedtodimesShortly after, a psychiatrist started working with me. And of course, I was also a compulsive gambler too. So, I start working with an addictions counselor as well. I had attempted to stop gambling on my own but felt I could control it on my own and I failed with many relapses and binges even while in outpatient treatment. I guess I had not reached bottom yet. Even after a 20 day stay in a crisis center and suicide attempt!

What was wrong with me?

It’s called ADDICTION. It is a sickness that is very hard to overcome. But possible. And this wasn’t my last time I would worked this circuit. Not due to actively gambling, due to the financial pressures from this disease, I had another suicide attempt in 2006 as it seemed I had not done enough work in all areas of recovery, including my financial inventory. First lesson? A well-balanced recovery plan.

But in 2006 I also just wanted to be normal, live life in recovery without having to take medications for mental/emotional issues. So, I stopped taking them thinking it was just the gambling that was causing my mental illness problems of PTSD, manic depression, mild mania anxiety and bipolar insomnia cycles and OCD. So, within two weeks of no meds? I was back to severe depression and suicidal. My answer? I took all my meds at once. I had gotten to that dark, black hole of hopelessness again. Back in the hospital again, another 16-day crisis center stay and days of suicide watch. When released this time, I had learned the hard way that I need to take meds to maintain my mental/emotional health and well-being as they call this being “dually diagnosed or dual diagnosis.”

Recovery with even negative experiences, sprinkled with some “faith” can show us many life lessons in recovery. If we are not learning them, we won’t see our growth. Even when you are not participating in your preference of addiction, we can still have problems arise and life challenges in recovery, so being prepared is vital.

Where can I be going with this part of my story?

Several places. First, the habits and behaviors that we learn and pick up within any addiction and “the cycle” of any addiction needs to be interrupted and taken away for us to have a chance at a real honest recovery. Balance is the key in your recovery path as well. Learning the skills and tools in treatment and therapy to break the cycle of addiction and clear a path for dissipating control, denial, excuses, and more. Second, come to accept that recovery is a life-long process. It is as important to accept as Step-one, total surrender.

And third, having a firm ‘Relapse Prevention Plan’ is a must for anyone who comes into recovery and wants it long-term. We all know that life events happen. Even happy or positive events, not just negative or tragic ones. I feel it is why Gamblers Anonymous asks the question in our combo book of “The 20 Questions” to see if you have a problem with gambling. It is why they pose #19.) “Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?”

YES! For me, even when things good happened, I would want to celebrate by going supposedly to have some “fun” by gambling. However, my addiction was so bad I needed anything I could grab hold of to recover, not just Gamblers Anonymous. I used my meetings and connections there for my support and listening to other like-minded addicts and keep my perspective of how insidious and cunning this illness is. And GA taught me how important it is to be there for others through recovery service as others were there for me when I was a newcomer.

We need to start a conversation about this still hush, hush addiction. Let’s dismantle the “myths” about it. It is one way to shatter the “stigma” around it, and around those who live dual diagnosed as well. Yes, mental/emotional illness in recovery can be a challenging task, but I hope by sharing some of my experiences, strength, and hope, and sharing some of my stories can be an example that recovery is possible, and we can lead happy, healthy, and productive lives in recovery!