The biphasic effects of alcohol: comparisons of subjective and objective measures of stimulation, sedation, and physical activity

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2007 Nov;31(11):1883-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2007.00518.x.


Background: Alcohol produces biphasic effects of both stimulation and sedation. Sensitivity to these effects may increase the risk for the development of alcoholism. Alcohol-induced changes in stimulation and sedation are commonly assessed with self-report questionnaires in human research and with physical activity monitoring in animal research. However, little is known about the effects of alcohol on physical activity or the relationship between physical activity and subjective self-report measures of stimulation and sedation following alcohol consumption in humans.

Methods: Thirty healthy men and women (n = 15 each) from 21 to 38 years old completed daily measurements of physical activity and self-reports of stimulation and sedation following alcohol or placebo consumption. Across each of the four experimental days, all participants consumed a placebo, 0.4, 0.6, or 0.8 g/kg dose of 95% alcohol in a counterbalanced order. Breath alcohol concentrations, physical activity levels, and self-reported stimulation and sedation were measured at baseline and on the ascending and descending limbs of the breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) curve.

Results: All alcohol doses increased physical activity, but these increases were time- and dose-dependent. Increases in physical activity lasted across both ascending and descending limbs of the BrAC curve. Following the 0.6 g/kg dose, both physical activity and self-reported stimulation increased during the ascending BrAC. Separate analyses of self-reported sedation scores indicated that alcohol consumption also increased sedation for the 0.6 and 0.8 g/kg doses. Physical activity was not significantly correlated with either self-reported stimulation or sedation at any time point.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that assessments of subjectively measured stimulation and sedation and objectively measured physical activity each assess unique aspects of the effects of alcohol. Used simultaneously, these measures may be useful for examining underlying mechanisms of the effects of alcohol on behavior.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior / drug effects
  • Breath Tests
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / drug effects*
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Self Concept*


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol