“What happened last night?” You ask yourself this question after waking up next to a trash can, with your ID missing, and phone dead. Or maybe you received that via text message from your best friend after she woke up in a random boy's room. Or maybe you overhead people gossiping in the library about the crazy antics their friends did while drunk.

Regardless, as a college student you've probably heard of a blackout or experienced it yourself.  But what is a blackout, and why are so many young adults blacking out so often?

What exactly is a blackout?

An alcoholic blackout is defined as "anterograde amnesia experienced by alcoholics during episodes of drinking, even when not fully intoxicated; it is indicative of early but still reversible brain damage."

Or in simpler words, it's when you drink and begin to forget what happens while intoxicated. There are different levels of blacking out, where the person can only recall some or none of the events which occurred while intoxicated.

"Sometimes I think I remember an entire night and then one of my friends sends me a photo where I'm doing something [embarrassing]," says [name excluded], "and it makes me wonder, 'what other stupid things did I do that night?' It’s scary to think that you have no memory of certain events. But I still blackout maybe every other weekend."

Blackout culture is an epidemic.

According to a study conducted by the American College Health Association, approximately 30 percent of college students meet the criteria for diagnosis for alcohol abuse. Additional studies have shown that 72 percent of Americans have reported a period of heavy drinking in his or her lifetime, usually between the ages of 18-24.

It’s difficult to dispute that binge drinking and blacking out has such a large presence on college campuses across the country. But why exactly are so many students choosing to drink to such an excess?

Blackout culture can be attributed to the "work-hard, play-harder" mentality.

“I think it has to do with the pressures that come with being a college student. I mean, I can be cramming in the library for seven hours on a Thursday night for an exam, but the first thing I want to do on Friday after the exam is blackout. It’s a way of rewarding myself for all the hard work I put in all week,” explains another student.

And maybe that’s true. Young adults, specifically college-aged students, are one of the most stressed demographic. In fact, The American Freshman annual survey from 2012 reported that 30% of college freshmen reported feeling “frequently overwhelmed.”

College students today, as stressed and sleep-deprived as they are, are engaging in excessive drinking to relax after a stressful week. It’s a never-ending cycle, the work-hard play-harder mentality, which so many students are becoming engrossed in.

Blacking has become an excuse for poor decision-making.

“Sometimes, when I do something dumb while drinking I just say that I was blacked out. And magically everyone forgives me. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is,” a college student told me. Not only is blacking out becoming a social norm, but it’s being used as an excuse for poor decision making.

Let's think of it this way, you can't be responsible for the things you can't remember. Right? Though this is not necessarily the case, many college student's find poor decisions made while blacked out to be entertaining.

“Of course, [I think blacking out is bad] but I don’t really see anything wrong with [blacking out]. It’s just something everyone does, like ‘oh, she was so blacked she passed out in her freshman year room thinking it was still hers’ it makes for funny stories. But I can see how it can be problematic,” commented another student.

So, what can you do?

Start conversations on your college campus about campus climate. Speak up about the prevalence of binge drinking on your college’s campus. Not only that, but you have the chance to defy this toxic culture by making the choice to drink responsibly. Lead by example.

One of the most important things to do while drinking alcohol is to pace yourself. And in reality that is easier said than done. But keep in mind, it’s a marathon not a sprint. Alternate between alcoholic beverages and non-alcoholic beverages to keep yourself hydrated and your BAC low. (#SpoonTip: This wearable Blood Alcohol Monitor will put your FitBit to shame.)

All names have been removed to protect the anonymity of students who contributed to this article.