“The last thing I hear is my heels, steady as a metronome, echoing through the lobby. And then there is nothing.

This happens to me sometimes. A curtain falling in the middle of the act, leaving minutes and sometimes hours in the dark. But anyone watching me wouldn’t notice. They’d simply see a woman on her way to somewhere else, with no idea her memory just snapped in half.”

Sarah Hepola, author of Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank To Forget


When I first read the above passage from Sarah Hepola’s new book Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank To Forget it gave me the chills.

I have had more blackouts that I can count. For me, blackouts were the ugly, scary end result of “too much fun.” The irony is that too much fun led to shame, regret, and grief … an aching sadness over significant periods of time “lost” with no means of recollection.

Many of my clients come to me with similar experiences. Blackouts are listed as one of the worst negative consequences of their drinking. For many women the goal is learning how to manage their alcohol so that they can go out, drink, have a great time and remember every second of it.

Blackouts seem to start at a blood alcohol content of around .20, and women often reach that level quicker than men, which means that we are more prone to blackouts. Why does this happen?

In her article “Anatomy of a Blackout,” Julie Beck writes that women have less alcohol dehydrogenase in their guts—an enzyme that helps break down alcohol. The effect: a woman will likely absorb about 30% more alcohol into her bloodstream than a man of the same weight who has consumed an equal amount. Women also have less free-floating water in their 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 way more wasted, and be much more likely to blackout.

The Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse describes low risk drinking as no more than 3 drinks a night for women, and 4 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. But the more I researched, I realized the guidelines are not meant to oppress women and take away our freedom to drink as much as men. And as Drinkaware.uk writes, “It’s not sexism, it’s biology.”

While it’s hard to know the exact number of women who suffer from blackouts because so many go unreported, recent studies of college students show that 1 in 4 students who drink alcohol will experience a blackout.

To counter this, here are 7 strategies you can try so that you might not have to quit drinking altogether.

7 strategies:


  • Set a clear intention before going out: How many drinks are “too many?” We know that you definitely don’t want to drink more than 4 in the span of 2 hours which is the fastest way to a blackout …Try limiting your drinks to the recommended amount of 3 drinks a night. If you know that 3 drinks obscures your judgment so that you coincidentally forget your best laid plans … then drop it to 2. The key is the pick a number that keeps you from crossing the line to the point of no return.

  • Eat something: Alcohol is absorbed through the walls of the stomach very quickly. The less that’s in there, the faster it will enter your bloodstream and the more quickly your blood alcohol content will rise. Eat before your drink and the alcohol will drip into your body’s systems, rather than flooding them. Try eating a meal with healthy fats, such as avocado, salmon, chia, olive or coconut oil, as fats take the longest to digest and will stay in your stomach longer.

  • No pre-gaming: Find another ritual to get you pumped and feeling confident for your night out. Pounding alcohol before hitting the bar is a sure fire way to have your BAC escalate quickly and for you to lose count of how much you are drinking.

  • Arrive and assess: Instead of being on autopilot and automatically ordering your usual drink when you get to the bar, try ordering something non-alcoholic first. Try a juice mixed with mineral/seltzer water. Assess the situation, see how you’re feeling and wait about 30 minutes before ordering your first drink.

  • Try the 2×1 rule: We’ve all heard about alternating one alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic drink. If you really want to change your habits and break out of your blackout behaviour, try two non-alcohol drinks in-between every alcoholic one. You will be forced to drink slower and you’ll be getting the benefits of extra hydration.

  • No shots or doubles: This might seem obvious but shots and doubles are one of the fastest ways for your BAC to rise quickly. If you “have to” do a shot every once and awhile, make sure you chase it with a non-alcoholic drink and give yourself some time before the next one.

  • Buddy up: It’s hard for many of us to keep ourselves accountable. If we keep our intentions to ourselves, we are more able to talk ourselves out of them. Do you have a friend you could talk to about this? Finding an accountability buddy and telling them your intentions will help you stay on track.

It’s also important to do the inner work necessary to avoid repeating the same cycles. If you have experienced a blackout in the past, and have lingered feelings of shame, regret, embarrassment or sadness, give yourself some extra love and forgiveness. Reach out, share your story with a trusted friend.

If you are a friend on the receiving end and hearing of someone else’s blackout, make sure to offer them safety, non-judgment and support instead of laughing it off or minimizing it.

We know that by stuffing these feelings, we will only keep setting ourselves up for the kind of artificial release that comes with alcohol, then we drink too much again to escape brain chatter or pain, and the cycle continues.

Are you committed to breaking this cycle? Which strategy will you try?

Have you ever had conversations with friends about blackouts? Please forward this info to them … let’s work together to make this less of a taboo topic!

Cheers to clarity and crystal clear memories,