Blackouts as a Moderator of Young Adult Veteran Response to Personalized Normative Feedback for Heavy Drinking

Published in: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research [Epub March 2018]. doi:10.1111/acer.13637

by Mary Beth Miller, Angelo M. DiBello, Kate B. Carey, Eric R. Pedersen

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Blackouts—or periods of alcohol-induced amnesia for all or part of a drinking event—have been identified as independent predictors of alcohol-related harm that may be used to identify individuals who would benefit from intervention. However, little is known about the prevalence and impact of blackouts among Veterans. This study examined blackouts as a moderator of young adult veteran response to a brief, online personalized normative feedback (PNF) intervention for heavy drinking.


Veterans scoring ≥ 3/4 (women/men) on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test completed a baseline and 1-month assessment as part of a larger intervention trial (N = 571; 83% male; age M = 28.9, SD = 3.3). Participants were randomized to alcohol PNF (n = 285) or a video game attention control (n = 286). Hierarchical regression was used to examine the interaction between intervention condition and blackouts on alcohol-related outcomes at 1-month follow-up.


At baseline, 26% of participants reported loss of memory for drinking events in the past 30 days. The interaction between condition and blackouts was significant, such that PNF participants who had experienced blackouts at baseline reported greater decreases in drinking quantity at 1 month than those who had not, and only PNF participants who had experienced baseline blackouts reported a decrease in alcohol problems at follow-up.


PNF appears to be particularly effective for individuals who have experienced alcohol-induced blackout, perhaps because blackouts prime them for feedback on their alcohol use. While other negative consequences may also prime individuals for behavior change, blackouts are posited as a particularly useful screening tool because they are prevalent among young adults, have a strong association with alcohol-related harm, and are assessed in widely used clinical measures.

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