From Blackout Drinking to Addiction

Back in September 2016, University of North Carolina senior Ashton Katherine Carrick 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 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.

Note: April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Through its work with this year’s theme “Connecting the Dots: Opportunities for Recovery,” the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) is working to educate “people about the treatment and prevention of alcoholism, particularly among our youth, and the important role that parents can play in giving kids a better understanding of the impact that alcohol can have on their lives.”

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