Genetic Epidemiology of Liability for Alcohol-Induced Blacking and Passing Out

Christal N. Davis*, Wendy S. Slutske, Nicholas G. Martin, Arpana Agrawal, Michael T. Lynskey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Individuals differ in their sensitivity to alcohol's physiological effects, including blacking and passing out. Blackouts are periods of impaired memory formation when an individual engages in activities they later cannot recall, while passing out results in loss of consciousness. Methods: The sample consisted of 3,292 adult twins from the Australian Twin Registry. Univariate twin analyses were conducted to examine the contributions of genetic and environmental influences to blacking and passing out occurrence and susceptibility (accounting for frequency of intoxication). Evidence for shared etiology of susceptibility to blacking and passing out was examined using bivariate twin analyses. Results: Although blacking and passing out were strongly associated (odds ratio (OR) = 4.45, 95% confidence interval (CI): [3.85, 5.14]), the genetic epidemiology was quite different. Genetic (43%) and nonshared environmental (57%) influences contributed to liability for blackout occurrence. For passing out occurrence, there was evidence of sex differences. Among men, genetic (32%) and nonshared environmental (68%) influences contributed, whereas among women, there were shared (29%) and nonshared environmental (72%) influences. After accounting for frequency of intoxication, genetic influences on blackout susceptibility remained significant; in contrast, only nonshared environmental influences were significant for passing out susceptibility. There was evidence for overlapping genetic and nonshared environmental factors influencing susceptibility to blacking and passing out among men; among women, there were overlapping nonshared environmental influences. Conclusions: Blacking and passing out are 2 common sedative-like effects of heavy drinking, and people differ considerably in their susceptibility to these effects. This study suggests that differences in blackout susceptibility can be explained by genetic factors in both men and women, while differences in susceptibility to pass out after consuming alcohol may be attributable to environmental influences, particularly among women. These environmental factors may include changing social and cultural norms about alcohol use, drinking context, and the type(s) of alcohol consumed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1103-1112
Number of pages10
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number6
Early online date7 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • Alcohol Sensitivity
  • Blackout
  • Passing Out
  • Sex Differences
  • Twin Study


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