Biphasic alcohol response differs in heavy versus light drinkers

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2002 Jun;26(6):827-35.


Background: Most studies of risk factors for alcohol-related problems have focused on biological family history as a primary risk factor. However, other factors, such as early-age heavy drinking, are also risk factors for sustained or progressive heavy consumption. Little is currently known about the mechanisms underlying binge or heavy drinking.

Methods: This study examined the acute subjective and objective effects of ethanol in heavy drinkers versus light drinkers. Thirty-four subjects participated in this within-subjects study consisting of three early-evening testing sessions in which subjects consumed a beverage containing either 0.8 or 0.4 g/kg ethanol or placebo.

Results: Compared with lighter drinkers, heavy drinkers were more sensitive to the positive stimulant-like effects of ethanol (p < 0.05), especially during the increasing limb of the blood alcohol curve. Heavy drinkers also showed less sedation and cortisol response after alcohol than the light drinkers (p < 0.05).

Conclusions: The results indicate that young adult binge drinkers show a biphasic alcohol response, with heightened sensitivity to stimulant-like alcohol effects and greater tolerance to sedative alcohol effects compared with their light-drinking counterparts.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / drug effects
  • Affect / physiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / blood*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Ethanol / blood*
  • Ethanol / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Male


  • Ethanol
  • Hydrocortisone