TIME Addiction

Here’s Who’s Most Likely To Black Out While Drinking

passed out girl
Getty Images

Blacking out, or getting so drunk that you can’t remember anything that happened the night before, is all too common among underage drinkers, according to a new study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

In the study, Marc Schuckit, professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego, and his colleagues looked at data on 1,402 drinking teenagers in England when they were 15, 16, 18 and 19. They discovered that by the time the teens reached 19, 90% of them had drank so much they experienced a blackout. About half of them had blacked out multiple times.

More than half of people reported having a blackout at every year of follow-up.

Teens who blacked out while drinking tended to be female—likely because they weigh less and have less body water to dilute the alcohol—to smoke, have sensation-seeking and impulsive behaviors, lack conscientiousness and have friends who also drank or used other substances. “It’s not as if a blackout in these kids was an isolated phenomenon,” says Schuckit. “Blackouts are unfortunately often considered to be a funny thing as opposed to dangerous. I am not sure the average person realizes the dangers associated with blackouts.”

A blackout can occur when someone drinks well over their limit. Alcohol is considered a depressant, and when the dose is high enough, depressants are known to impair memory acquisition. When someone blacks out, it means that while they appear to be awake, alert and intoxicated, their brain is actually not making long-term memories of what’s happening. If a person experiencing a blackout is asked what happened to them just 10 minutes ago, they will have no idea.

There are very few, if any, longitudinal studies that have looked at the impact of blacking out on the brain, but experts guess that it isn’t good. High blood alcohol levels are known to cause memory problems later in life, and blacking out is an indicator of drinking too much. Some people may hit that point with fewer drinks than others, and it’s possible that some have a genetically predisposed sensitivity to alcohol’s effects—but blacking out always means you’ve drank too much.

For young people, that behavior concerns experts. “When you really get drunk, literature shows you are opening yourself up to a huge number of problems,” says Schuckit, citing a greater likelihood of getting into accidents and fights, or doing things that one may later regret, including sex.

The study looked at British students, and prior data suggests that they drink more than American students. Still, Schuckit says it should be taken more seriously among young drinkers everywhere.

Read next: This is What Alcohol Does to Your Sleep

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

4 Health Excuses To Stay Sober At Your Holiday Party

After the Party
DNY59/Getty Images

It's not always easy to explain why you're turning down a drink, finds a new study

Staying sober at a holiday party—whether it’s out of commitment to the 12 steps, your health or your tastebuds—certainly has its merits. But it’s not always easy to explain why you’re turning down a hot toddy, finds a new study in the Journal of Applied Communication Research.

Consider that 65% of adults who work full-time say they regularly drink alcohol, and drinking after work is an ingrained part of many companies’ culture. That after-hours socializing may come with other benefits, too. One study found that among full-time employees, men who drink alcohol earn 19% more than those who don’t, and women who drink make 23% more. Another found that drinking after work with colleagues eased job dissatisfaction.

To find out how non-drinkers handle boozy events, researchers from North Carolina State University interviewed full-time workers who don’t drink alcohol. After analyzing their responses, the authors report that most non-drinkers feel like an outsider and felt like by not drinking, it was their job to put drinkers at ease. Some even said that felt they actually had to be better at their jobs in order to make up for the social points they lost for abstaining. Many said they accepted drinks they never touched, just to save face. “I’ve held a beer bottle for hours, to the point where it’s warm,” said one man who works in sales.

About 40% of nondrinkers abstained for reasons associated with health or not liking the taste, and 38% did so because they were recovering alcoholics. But almost all of them, when asked by coworkers why they weren’t drinking, tended to cite their own health.

No one should have to explain why they don’t drink, but until that day comes, here are five health-related excuses, all from the study participants, to forgo that next drink.

1. “Not drinking is my secret to weight loss.”

Ken, a 41-year-old man, has to woo big donors for his job at a university. “Sometimes they’re really fired up about getting drunk at a football game or something,” he said. In order to not alienate them, Ken told donors he sheds pounds by not drinking. “I don’t want the first thing that somebody thinks of about me to be that I don’t drink,” he said.

2. “It’s that pesky toe fungus again.”

Most recovering alcoholics surveyed gave a health reason for abstaining—in order to skirt stigma. Marshall, a 41-year-old engineer, wanted a legitimate medical excuse that wouldn’t threaten his reputation, so he blamed his toe fungus medication, which is contraindicated with booze—even though the drug had expired and he’d stopped using it.

3. “Sorry, I’ve got a marathon.”

People respect long-term goals and physical challenges, so 43-year-old Donna, a professor, said she didn’t drink because it got in the way of her marathon training. “That goes over really easily,” she said.

4. “Ugh, migraines.”

Instead of revealing that she took anti-anxiety medication and didn’t want to drink alcohol, website designer Maddie, 31, said she took migraine medication. “I’ve spread that lie all over town,” she said.

TIME Addiction

Most People Who Drink Too Much Aren’t Alcoholics

A new report shows that 90% of heavy drinkers are not addicted to alcohol

A new report shows that very few people who drink heavily are actually dependent on alcohol, contrary to some assumptions.

For men, excessive drinking means five drinks in a sitting or 15 over the course of the week; for women, four in a sitting or eight over the week. The survey found that 29% of the population met this criteria, but that 90% of heavy drinkers are not alcoholics.

Health officials believe this is good news for efforts to reduce excessive drinking. Instead of requiring treatment for an addiction, heavy drinkers could be deterred by measures like higher taxes. Excessive drinking causes 88,000 deaths in the U.S. per year.

[NYT]

TIME Addiction

The Genetic Reason Why Some Drinkers Can’t Stop

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Chris Clor—Getty Images/Blend Images

A new study in mice looks at the link between genetics, alcohol and the brain

Around 10% of people will develop alcohol disorders, and a new study in mice shows that having a specific genetic strand might be the reason some escalate from moderate to excessive drinkers.

Previously, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco showed that moderate drinking activates a protein in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which might protect against drinking too much.

In the new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, they study what happens when that threshold into excessive drinking is crossed. When mice consumed generous amounts of alcohol for a long period of time—mimicking the human act of binge drinking—their levels of the protective protein BDNF decreased significantly in a part of their brains where decision-making occurs. One possible reason for this decline, the scientists discovered, was a corresponding increase in genetic material microRNA, including miR-30a-5p.

When the researchers increased miR-30a-5p in the mice brains themselves, BDNF went down and mice wanted to drink more, preferring alcohol to water. When the scientists inhibited the miR-30a-5p, the brains returned to normal, and so did the drinking behaviors of the mice.

Though mice studies can’t translate directly to humans, the researchers think a similar situation may be happening in human brains during alcohol consumption, and that perhaps certain people are genetically susceptible, as other research has also suggested. The researchers hope their findings will provide better data for alcoholism therapies.

TIME Cancer

Smoking and Drinking Raise Your Risk for Oral HPV

smoking lit cigarette
Getty Images

Research sheds new light on HPV risk factors

Your favorite health vices—smoking and drinking—may pave paths to HPV, two new studies find.

A new study published in a research letter in JAMA looked at detailed health profiles from 6,887 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Those people with higher levels of biomarkers for tobacco exposure in their blood and urine also tended to have a higher prevalence of oral HPV type 16. That’s a strain that causes more than 90% of HPV-related oropharyngeal—or throat—cancers, says study co-author Dr. Gypsyamber D’Souza, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

(By the way, you can only get oral HPV through intimate oral contact—not by sharing forks or kisses on the cheek, D’Souza says. It’s unclear whether French kissing, when you’re actually exchanging saliva, also does the trick.)

The main causes of throat cancers are tobacco, alcohol and HPV, she says, but since tobacco use has declined in the U.S., HPV is becoming an increasingly important player.

“HPV is the primary causal agent of HPV-related oral cancer,” D’Souza says, and most people clear the infections on their own. “But these results suggest that tobacco may make these infections less likely to clear, and therefore smokers may have a higher risk of eventually developing oropharyngeal cancers.”

The increased risk doesn’t only come from smoking cigarettes: the researchers found an association with oral HPV-16 and tobacco exposure in general, even at very low levels indicative of secondhand smoke. People who were current tobacco users had more cases of oral HPV-16 than former users or people who had never used it.

The good news is that the HPV vaccine protects against HPV type 16, and though it hasn’t been definitively shown yet to protect against oral infection, some data suggest that it does, D’Souza says.

In other HPV-related news, a separate questionnaire study on 1,313 men published earlier this month in BMJ found that men who reported drinking more alcohol tended to also have higher levels of HPV. In fact, the biggest drinkers in the study had 69% of HPV prevalence vs 57% among the men who drank the least. (For HPV types that may increase the risk of cancer, those numbers were 35% vs 23%.)

Neither study could definitively point to a cause or mechanism, but studies have shown that smoking and drinking have immunosuppressive effects, which can promote inflammation and infection.

“What this adds to the story is an understanding of one reason why people who have not had very heavy sexual history, people who’ve had one lifetime partner . . . develop these cancers,” D’Souza says. “This cross-sectional study suggests that in some people tobacco use might be an explanation.”

TIME drinking

Science Explains Why Men Get Wasted Together

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Marcus Richardson—Getty Images/Flickr Select

A new study may shed light on why men seem to like getting drunk together more than women do

Male bonding over booze is a ritual as old as booze but modern science may have finally shed some light on why getting sloshed with your mates can seem like a particularly male pursuit.

Smiles are contagious in a group of men sitting around drinking alcohol, according to a study announced Tuesday in the journal Clinical Psychological Science. This suggests that booze serves as a social lubricant for men, making them more sensitive to social behaviors, like smiling, and freeing them to connect with one another in a way that a soda can’t.

Lest that strike you as laughably obvious, consider this: the effect does not hold if there are any women in the group, according to the study authors.

Researchers divided 720 “healthy social drinkers” — half men, half women, all ages 21 to 28 — into three groups. Each group received either an alcoholic drink (vodka cranberry, regrettably for any lab rats with refined taste, but so it goes), a placebo or a non-alcoholic drink. They found that, among men, smiles — and associated increases in positive mood and social bonding — tend to catch on, leaping from face to face, as it were, but only in exclusively male groups.

“Many men report that the majority of their social support and social bonding time occurs within the context of alcohol consumption,” said lead researcher Catharine Fairbairn. “We wanted to explore the possibility that social alcohol consumption was more rewarding to men than to women — the idea that alcohol might actually ‘lubricate’ social interaction to a greater extent among men.”

More importantly — get ready to never hear the end of this one, boyfriends and husbands of the world — researchers note that genuine smiles are perfectly contagious among sober women, just not sober men. A cold one merely evens the score for men, allowing them to catch smiles from each other, so long as there are no women present.

The authors don’t posit a guess as to why the presence of a woman keeps drunk men from catching smiles from one another, except to say that booze seems to disrupt “processes that would normally prevent them from responding to another person’s smile.”

Nice work, dudes. There’s nothing a girl likes more than an unsmiling humorless dolt.

TIME Scotland

Scotch Whisky Makers Aren’t Warming to the Prospect of Scottish Independence

Distillers fear secession could dampen sales of their beloved spirits

Scotch whisky makers are worried about the vote for Scottish independence on September 18.

The Scotch Whisky Association explained how a vote for independence is concerning because it is currently unclear which currency Scotland will use and what an independent Scotland might mean for access to foreign markets. Currency confusion could lower sales, putting the important industry in a tailspin, along with the rest of the economy.

As the country’s second-largest export, Scotch comprises one fourth of all of Scotland’s food and drink exports. Some 40 bottles are shipped out of the country every second, according to CNN Money. The Scotch Whisky Association also stated that 35,000 people make their living off of Scotch production.

TIME Paycheck Friday

5 Unique Drinking Gadgets for Under $50

Come on, you're making some decent money now. Live a little! Consider blowing your paycheck on these worthy splurges.

Digital Beer Koozie ($20)

koolernaut
Beer Outlaw

So much real-time data in this world, and here you are drinking beer without knowing its exact temperature.

The Kool-er-naut brings the tried and true Koozie into the 21st century, with an LCD thermometer and a freezable ice puck that slips into the bottom of this newfangled apparatus for some extra coldness. As a bonus, there’s a chart on the back of the Kool-er-naut that tells you the optimal temperature for various styles of beer.

[Kickstarter (ships October-ish)]

Drink-Making Scale and App ($49.99)

perfect drink
Brookstone

What a time to be alive! Put a glass down on this scale, and its connected app tells you how much of each liquid and ice to pour into your drink (there are hundreds of drink recipes to choose from). If you overpour one of the liquids, the app will readjust the amounts of the remaining liquids on the fly. You can also tell the app which types of booze you have on hand and it’ll return only recipes that can be made with said booze.

[Brookstone]

BeerBelly Booze Smuggler ($29.49)

beerbelly
BeerBelly

I’m no mathlete, but it seems like this fake beer gut would pay for itself before halftime at any exorbitantly-priced sporting event. Simply funnel 80 ounces of your favorite libation into this wearable polyurethane bladder, slip it on under your shirt and waddle through the turnstile looking like any other overweight American. For the ladies, there’s this wine-holding sports bra, too.

[Amazon]

Spinning Beer Chiller ($29.99)

spinchill
SpinChill

Stick a beer into a pile of ice and spin the can around a bunch of times. It’ll eventually get cold. How? Scients. “That’s not how you spell science.” Eh, I’ve heard it both ways.

Now attach the can to this hand-held spinning doohickey that rotates the can much faster and — you guessed it – the beer gets colder faster. The SpinChill can cool a can in one minute, a 12-ounce bottle in three minutes, and a wine bottle in five minutes.

Tailgate-in-a-Box Kit ($39)

instagate
Instagate

Tailgates? Fun. Lugging all the stuff to tailgates? Not fun. Cleaning up all the stuff once you’re stumbling around like a toddler during an earthquake? The utmost in un-fun.

The Instagate one-time-use kit packs a grill, grilling tools, 60-quart cooler, lighter/bottle opener combo, beer pong set, 10 sets of utensils, 12 cups, 10 plates, 20 napkins, 20 condiment packets, and some garbage bags to clean everything up when you’re done. Oh, and the cardboard box folds out into three little tabletops.

[Kickstarter (ships November-ish)]

TIME psychology

How to Drink Less and Still Have Fun

Set 'em up Joe—and pay the price tomorrow
Set 'em up Joe—and pay the price tomorrow Paul Taylor; Getty Images

A new study suggests using a smaller glass, keeping your glass on the table while you pour, and never filling it over half-full

If you’re like most people, your brain loves it when you drink—and it shows you its appreciation by rewarding you for it. A few sips of the right stuff and you feel funnier, smarter, more confident, and certainly more attractive to the opposite sex—even if not all of this stands up to later, sober scrutiny. Your body, however, was never consulted on the deal, which may be why it makes you feel absolutely lousy the day after a night on the tiles.

Down through millennia, drinkers have sought to thread that brain-body needle, drinking just enough to have fun but not so much as to be miserable in the morning, and there have been no shortage of strategies: take a glass of water between each drink; hold it to one drink per hour. Now, a study in the International Journal of Drug Policy, conducted by researchers at Iowa State and Cornell Universities, takes a new look at the cues and conditions that cause people to drink too much and, more important, suggests ways to avoid them.

For all its cultivated rep, it’s wine that can cause drinkers the most headaches—literally and otherwise—because in many situations it’s hard to gauge how much you’re consuming. Beer is typically served in bottles or cans, which are easy enough to keep track of. And liquor is often poured and mixed by the shot—one of the few units of measure that enjoys diplomatic recognition in both the imperial and metric scales. But wine? That comes in wide glasses and narrow glasses, stemless glasses and flutes; often as not you free-pour it—about the least precise method of portion control imaginable—and while wine frequently accompanies a meal, it’s just as often simply walk-and-talk party fuel.

To study what makes drinkers free-pour too freely, the investigators recruited 73 student volunteers (“all of legal drinking age,” the study stressed) and allowed them to serve themselves wine at a variety of testing stations. Sometimes standard wine glasses were made available, sometimes larger glasses, and sometimes extra wide ones. Red and white wine were both offered, and students were alternately instructed either to hold the glass while pouring or leave it on the table. Every one of these variables made a difference in how much the students served themselves.

Wide glasses caused subjects to pour 11.9% more than narrow ones—the same fill-the-space phenomenon that leads people to heap more pasta onto a big plate than a small one. Holding the glass as opposed to leaving it on the table resulted in a 12.2% bigger serving—perhaps because when the glass moves even a little it’s harder to gauge the level of liquid accurately. And when the glass sizes were the same, participants poured 9.2% less red wine than white because, the researchers theorize, the lower color contrast between white wine and a clear glass makes the glass look less full.

Gender made a difference too, as did body mass index (BMI). As in the world outside the lab, the men in the study poured more than the women did—about 9% more, the researchers found. And men with high BMI poured about 19% more than men with average BMI. For women, body mass didn’t make a difference. But there was a way for both sexes and all sizes to bring their intake down, and that was to establish—and stick to—simple rules of thumb.

For the purposes of consistency, the rule of thumb the researchers chose was the half-glass rule: drink as much as you want, but fill the glass only halfway up each time you pour. High-BMI men who didn’t use that rule drank 31% more than those who did, and men of average BMI drank 26% more. Women, on the whole, drank 27% less when they used the half-empty rule.

These aren’t hard and fast rules, of course. How much people pour in a single go is not the same as how much they drink, and it doesn’t take terribly sophisticated math to figure out that 16 half-glasses works out to a whole lot of wine. Rate of consumption—gulping versus sipping—makes a big difference too. Even the best rules of thumb can take you only so far. After that, it’s best just to leave the party early—without your car keys, thank you very much.

TIME Culture

Americans Really Like to Drink Beer, Says Unsurprising Poll

Beer Americans Stella Artois
Beer drinkers at Financier Patisserie in New York City on July 21, 2014. Rob Kim—Getty Images

But women still love wine

Bourbon may be booming and more wineries are cropping up all over the nation, yet Americans still prefer a cold brew over a glass of wine or whiskey.

According to Gallup, 41% of U.S. drinkers say they typically drink beer, compared with 31% who generally prefer wine and 23% who reach for liquor. It’s the biggest gap between beer and wine in six years.

While wine briefly outpaced beer in 2005, brews have remained the drink of choice for Americans since the 1990s, when almost half of Americans said they typically drink beer. Almost half of women, however, choose wine while only 17% of men choose it over other alcoholic drinks (57% opt for beer).

In June, the number of breweries in the U.S. reached 3,000 for the first time since before Prohibition, according to the Brewers Association, an industry trade group. Domestic wine production is also up, increasing by 6.3% in 2013, according to Wines & Vines magazine. But even with that growth, the percentage of adults who said they prefer wine dropped to 31% from 35% just a couple years ago. And despite the rise of craft distilleries and an uptick in sales of brown spirits like whiskey, just 23% of American drinkers choose spirits over beer and wine, a number virtually unchanged since 2002.

Gallup’s survey also found that 64% of U.S. adults say they drink alcohol, up from 60% a year ago, and they consume an average of just over 4 drinks per week.

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