Stronger drinks lead to blackouts

College students often drink more alcohol in one night than they think, according to a recent study.

"Students tend to have pretty liberal views about what constitutes a single drink," said Duke University Medical Center professor Aaron M. White, the author of the study.

The researchers found that what may seem like "just a few drinks" can be a lot more. Students count one drink as one cup, while they might have consumed a lot more alcohol in that one drink than they know, they found.

"The amount students are considering is one standard drink is actually equivalent to 2.5 drinks," White said.

White and Courtney Kraus, associate author of the study, surveyed 800 Duke students and found that around half of them had experienced at least one blackout, and one out of every 10 experienced one in the two weeks before the survey. Additional information was collected from 50 students who experienced blackouts.

"The high number of blackouts makes more sense if students are actually drinking more than they think," Kraus said.

Some of the students surveyed said they had only consumed a few drinks before their last blackout.

"That didn't seem like enough alcohol to cause a blackout," White said.

In Australia there is information about serving sizes on the drink's label, White said. This lets people know how much alcohol they are really drinking.

"It certainly makes sense that we should explore that possibility here in the U.S.," White said in a press release.

The study was published in the November issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. It began because of an interest in college students' experiences with alcohol-induced blackouts.

This study comes on the heels of two studies by Henry Wechsler, director of the College Alcohol Studies Program at the Harvard School of Public Health. One study said that college students will binge drink more if there is cheap beer and other alcoholic beverages available near a campus, and the other said that racial diversity on a campus may decrease binge drinking.

Wechsler's studies classified binge drinking as having five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more for women, at least once in the past two weeks.

"We can't decipher what binge drinking is until people learn how much quantity a standard drink is," White said.

Some researchers think there is more to be done to ensure the success of this study.

"We need to repeat this study with a larger random sample of students," said Ralph Hingson, professor of social and behavioral sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health. "When they're collecting information about drinks in these surveys, they ought to provide more information about what a 'standard' drink really is"

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