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Blackouts - Cathy - May 28th 2008

Question:

Hello, I have blackouts. My family just accepts them as normal behavior for me. I am very reluctant and tyrannical about discussions regarding this behavior. I know I am an alcoholic. I have been to A.A. and it just makes me want to drink talking about drinking. I feel depressed. I want to be successful in life. I am in college and I have a 3.9/4.0. But, I do drink: the night before an exam, if I have an early class, or if I’m stressed out about a teacher. I does not seem to matter for school. The problem is that I am not happy. And, I do not care about anything else since I started school. I feel like I traded high risk behavior as fulfillment for a challenge with getting A’s. It is like a new high. I took "a" psychology class, and "positive" behavior is not recognized as destructive. But what if it is just a replacement?

One might think…well this seems to be working out!…well, I’m 32 and still just as crazy, just about my grades instead.

What is my problem?

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Answer:

Hi Cathy,

It appears to me that you may have two problems. The first is that when you drink, you take in so much alcohol that it causes blackouts. What you need to understand is the fact that blackouts are dangerous.

The first problem has to do with losing consciousness when you drink:

First, if you experience unconsciousness when you are away from home you are vulnerable to theft, assault, rape and even loss of you life.

Second, is the fact that blackouts are physically dangerous. They are symptomatic of the fact that your body and brain are letting you know that you are running the risk of brain damage. Remember, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. With enough intake of alcohol at one time it is possible to stop breathing and die. An even worse outcome from another point of view is that you could survive but be left brain damaged and in a vegetative state. None of these are attractive alternatives.

The second problem that you have is that you are experiencing depression. Now, your depression raises the age old question of "which came first, the chicken or the egg." In other words, are you depressed because you drink? This means that alcohol is causing your depression. Or, are you drinking because you are depressed? The only way to know for sure is to stop drinking for a couple of weeks and see how you feel. However, my guess is that you have both problems, ie, drinking and depression, and they reinforce one another.

By the way, there could be another problem causing both depression and drinking. For example, if you suffer from Adult Attention Deficit Disorder that could be at the bottom of what is wrong. Or, if you suffer from Bipolar Disorder that, too, could cause your problems.

Suggestions:

As I mentioned in the note that I posted to the other person who wrote in about her husband’s blackouts, there is now medication that blocks the craving and even the wish to have a drink. It seems to work well and is worth trying.

I believe it makes sense to see a psychologist or psychiatrist and have yourself evaluated so that it could be determined just what your problem is. It is never easy to stop drinking but it is much more difficult when there is an underlying mental health diagnosis of some kind.

You would probably benefit from psychotherapy, if and when you stop drinking, and that can help you learn how to reduce and even end your depression. I would recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The purpose of the CBT would have to do with coping with depression.

You are not the first person to have complained that attending AA meetings causes them to want to drink more because so much time and energy is focused on alcohol. It becomes a cue or reminder.

There are non AA groups you could learn about. One of them is called Rational Therapy and you could look it up online.

Clearly, you are a very bright and talented person to be able to score such very high college grades despite your alcohol problems. You owe it to yourself to find a way out of this mess.

Best of Luck

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Comments
  • Anonymous-1

    An alcoholic blackout normally means that the person is conscious and may even be acting fairly normally, even though they are under the influence of alcohol. However, he/she has no recall whatsoever for the time of the blackout.

    Dr Schwartz seems to be equating an alcoholic blackout with unconsciousness, which is incorrect. Of course, the orginal poster may have meant that he/she experiences unconsciousness as a result of drinking, but that is not what is technically meant by the term "blackout."

  • Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, PhD

    I want to thank the person who wrote the comment to the posting about blackouts. It is true that blackouts resulting from drinking alcohol are a form of amnesia. Technically, the individual was not unconscious during the period of time they were inebriated. Rather, the cannot remember what they were doing and saying.

    I still want to emphasize the fact that blackouts are a signal of potential brain damage occurring. It is even possible for people to experience blackouts after very little drinking if they have been drinking alcohol for many years.

    Again, thankyou to the person who wrote the comment.

  • Catmom

    Thanks for your openess to my input. I was the one who wrote about blackouts not equaling unconsciousness & forgot to mention my name.

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