Alcohol Intoxication and Blackout

A high per­cent­age of crime is com­mit­ted when both defen­dants and vic­tims are alco­hol intox­i­cated. Forensic clin­i­cians are reg­u­larly asked to eval­u­ate men­tal states at the time of the offense for accused per­pe­tra­tors and vic­tims of alleged crime dur­ing peri­ods of alco­hol intox­i­ca­tion. In crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings, both defen­dants and vic­tims com­monly claim that alco­hol intox­i­ca­tion absolves them of respon­si­bil­ity for their conduct.

Alcohol-induced black­outs” involve a form of antero­grade amne­sia, where indi­vid­u­als con­tinue to func­tion socially with­out record­ing mem­o­ries, due to the impact of rapidly ris­ing blood alco­hol lev­els on the hip­pocam­pus. The amne­sia may be par­tial or com­plete. Individuals are able to engage in com­plex and inten­tional behav­ior with­out loss of con­scious­ness and with­out remem­ber­ing what they did. Some research indi­cates that mem­o­ries may be recon­structed later through post-event cue­ing, but sub­jects demon­strate prob­lems with source mon­i­tor­ing and may actu­ally pro­duce false memories.

This raises a fas­ci­nat­ing psy­c­hole­gal ques­tion: Does alco­hol intox­i­ca­tion remove mens rea? Legally speak­ing, does a black­out remove intent or con­sent? Should a per­son be held respon­si­ble for their con­duct dur­ing an alcohol-induced blackout?

Observers (lay per­sons, police offi­cers, men­tal health clin­i­cians, researchers, and alco­hol coun­selors) can­not reli­ably iden­tify level of intox­i­ca­tion in oth­ers. Self-report of level of intox­i­ca­tion is very poor as well, includ­ing esti­mates of BAC in self and others,though there is some evi­dence that drinkers can be trained to accu­rately detect level of intoxication.

A bib­li­og­ra­phy of lit­er­a­ture on alcohol-induced black­out, judg­ment of intox­i­ca­tion, and asso­ci­ated psy­c­hole­gal men­tal state issues is attached as a resource for work­ing foren­sic clinicians.

Screenshot 2013-10-12 12.31.13Attachment link


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