As a self-proclaimed party girl with rather a long drinking career, I have had more blackouts than I can count.
For me, blackouts were the ugly and scary result of “too much fun.”
The irony is that too much fun led to shame, regret and grief.
I experienced an aching sadness over significant periods of time “lost” with no means of recollection.
Even though we were likely to try to laugh it off at brunch the next day as we struggled to fill in gaps from the night before (with a couple of mimosas to ease the path, of course), I knew this was something that was deeply affecting my friends as well.
Blackouts seem to start at a blood alcohol content of around .20, and women often reach that level quicker than men, which means we are more prone to blackouts.
But why does this happen?
A lot of it comes down to biology.
We have less alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme that helps break down alcohol, in our guts.
According to "Eat Like A Woman,"
A woman will likely absorb about 30 percent more alcohol into her bloodstream than a man of the same weight who has consumed an equal amount.
We also have less free-floating water in our bodies than men do, and since alcohol disperses in body water, we maintain a higher concentration for longer.
Simply put, if you are going shot for shot with a dude at the bar, you are going to get drunker faster, and you'll be much more likely to black out.
The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes low-risk drinking as no more than three drinks a night for women, and four drinks a night for men.
I used to think this was “crazy low," something concocted by the fun police rather than put in place to provide sound health recommendations.
As I researched, I also realized the guidelines are not meant to oppress women and take away our freedom to drink as much as men.
As Drinkaware.co.uk writes, “It may sound a bit sexist, but it's simple biology.”
While it’s hard to know the exact number of women who suffer blackouts because so many go unreported, recent studies of college students show that one in four students who drink alcohol will experience a blackout.
With so many of us dealing secretly with the shame of a blackout, we often lack solutions when the only one presented is a loud, "If you have problems with alcohol, then you shouldn’t drink at all."
Is it possible to continue to drink alcohol and to learn how to avoid blackouts?
Of course it is.
Here are a few strategies I have developed over the years of perfecting my party girl craft (which now includes the desire to remember every detail):
Changing your pregaming activities can help set the tone for the evening, and it can help ensure you are starting off on the right foot, so to speak.
The more you pay attention and set your intentions, the less likely you are to end up having one of those “I don’t know what happened” kind of nights.
Decide how much you are going to drink before you even leave the door, and follow these strategies to make sure you don’t stumble over the line into oblivion.
This may seem obvious, but having food in your stomach slows the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream.
This will help delay the effects of alcohol, which will help you stick to your intentions.
If you skip dinner, alcohol will enter your bloodstream faster, and your blood alcohol content will rise more rapidly.
If you are trying to get drunk fast, this is one way to do it.
Eating before you go out is an important strategy to follow, as it will cause alcohol to drip into your body's system, rather than flood it.
Proteins and fats take longer to digest, so they’ll stay in your system longer into the evening.
My best friend and I used to polish off a bottle of champagne before heading out to the first venue of the evening.
Drinking bubbly felt like a treat and a celebration, and that’s often exactly the feeling we were going for.
We always sought to shed the stress of the week, and this was a hard habit to break.
But when we both committed to controlling our drinking, our pregame strategy had to change.
We were still fans of the bubbly, so we sought out non-alcoholic versions.
Changing what you drink at the end of a long day or before getting ready to go out will dramatically changed the outcome of the evening.
Once you arrive at the venue, your first strategy should be to drink nothing.
Yes, it sounds strange, so let’s discuss.
Think about how much we do on autopilot without really thinking about it.
How many times have you sat down at a restaurant table, and immediately began perusing the wine list?
Or ordered a cocktail while waiting for your party to arrive?
Or grabbed that glass of champagne off the server’s tray of drinks at a networking event?
Or arrived at the club, beelined for the bar and ordered your favorite drink before you even registered what song is playing?
My guess is that you can say yes to all of these questions, and you aren’t alone.
To combat this automated response, I like to implement the “arrive and assess” strategy.
Give yourself 30 minutes after arriving somewhere to check in with yourself, see how you feel and try something different.
This simple step with help you reset your evening in a big way.
At a restaurant?
Ask what kind of delicious non-alcoholic offerings there are on the menu, and you might be surprised.
For so long, I was only focused on the boozy section that I had no idea how many other tasty options there were.
This strategy will also really help you to hold off on the alcohol until you have something in your stomach.
Arriving at a bar or club?
Try a sparkling water with a splash of fruit and a lime wedge.
Set the timer for 30 minutes before you order your first cocktail, and then follow the two-to-one strategy below.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes you pee more, which can lead to dehydration.
Not only does this lead to hangovers, but a dehydrated brain also doesn't function as well, which will compound how you feel the effects of alcohol.
Water is your friend for so many reasons.
You don't need to make your water drinking obvious.
You can ask the bartender for sparkling or still water over ice with a few slices of lime or lemon.
Drinking out of fancy glassware makes drinking water more appealing and more delicious in my experience.
It also cuts down on public scrutiny, judgment and having to answer unsolicited questions about why you aren’t drinking alcohol.
You may have heard the one-for-one rule.
Alternate every alcoholic beverage with a glass of water, hence one for one.
It has been my experience that this is not enough water (or time) between drinks.
It’s still possible to pound your way through a glass of water, then an alcoholic beverage, then another glass of water and then another alcoholic beverage in less than an hour.
If you do, you are still consuming alcohol at a faster rate and a larger quantity than you should be if you're trying to cut back.
While drinking plenty of water can slow the uptake of alcohol into your bloodstream, it will not dilute the amount of alcohol you are drinking.
More water does not equal permission to drink more alcohol.
Challenge yourself with a two-to-one ratio.
Sip two non-alcoholic drinks (at least) to every alcoholic beverage.
If you want more variety, try alternating one glass of still or sparkling water with lemon and one mocktail.
This is a great way to spread your drinks out, and you can more easily stick to your intentions.
Ask The Bartender
Cutting back on alcohol doesn’t have to be boring.
To the contrary, there are infinite possibilities for your tasting pleasure.
One of my favorite things to do is to ask the bartender to concoct the most delicious creation sans-alcohol that he or she can come up with.
Any good mixologist will love the challenge.
Request all-natural ingredients and not too much sugar.
Switch it up and try a savory drink.
Many bars now stock ingredients such as cucumber, basil, ginger, chillies, celery or vegetable juices, as well as natural syrups and fresh fruit.
Another way to enlist the bartender is by asking him or her to make you non-alcoholic drinks on the sly.
If you are at a work or social event where you feel the pressure to drink, you can ask the bartender to make sure that when your colleague or client is ordering rounds of drinks, yours is made without alcohol.
Make sure to tip him or her extra in appreciation for going the extra mile for you.
Again, refer back to your intentions for the evening.
If you’ve set a three-drink limit for yourself, you are going to guzzle that amount pretty quickly if doing shots or ordering doubles.
Whatever your magic number is for the night, I recommend the following golden rule to anyone looking to cut back on his or her alcohol for the evening while having a graceful and glorious night out:
No shots, no doubles (or triples) and no sugary drinks, which can cause your blood sugar to spike and inevitably crash again. (This includes sodas, artificial fruit juices, commercial syrups, etc.)
Follow this golden rule, and you are guaranteed to have more fun.
Trust me on this one.
Sip your drinks.
Pick the slowest drinker in the group and pace yourself with her.
I remember before I started trying to cut back on my alcohol intake, I couldn’t believe how “slow” some people drank.
Not surprisingly, it was the slow drinkers who still had their “ish” together at the end of the night.
When I started pacing myself and really savoring my drinks, I realized slow and steady really does win the race.
Knowing When “Enough Is Enough”
It’s a skill many of us are not taught.
To the contrary, in our culture of excess, we often feel like we need more, more, more.
Setting your intentions before you go out can help with your internal barometer of when enough is enough.
The more clear you can become on what your desired outcome, the more you’ll know if you’ve achieved it.
And if you are not going to, then you'll know when to call it quits.
It is also important to do the work necessary to avoid repeating the same cycles.
If you have experienced a blackout in the past and have lingering feelings of shame, regret, embarrassment or sadness, give yourself some extra love and forgiveness.
If you are a friend on the receiving end of hearing of someone else's blackout, make sure to offer him or her safety, non-judgment and support instead of laughing it off or minimizing it.
What are your favorite strategies for avoiding blackouts?
Share them in the comments.