Drunker than intended: misperceptions and information treatments

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2009 Nov 1;105(1-2):63-70. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2009.06.012. Epub 2009 Jul 21.


Background: Juveniles becoming overly intoxicated by alcohol is a widespread problem with consequences ranging from hangovers to deaths. We ask: could overshoots of intended levels of intoxication be triggered by misperceptions of the types found in recent studies of decision making in dynamic systems? It is well known that the dynamics of the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is complicated by a temporary accumulation of alcohol in the stomach delaying the uptake into the blood stream. We hypothesize that juveniles use an overly simplified drinking strategy, where drinking is guided by the difference between intended BAC and perceived BAC, and where the delay is not properly accounted for. If so, BAC will overshoot intended BAC. This hypothesis has not been thoroughly tested before; nor has the consequent and challenging educational problem.

Method: High school students made drinking decisions in a laboratory experiment employing a personalized BAC simulator. A questionnaire and simulations complement the experiment.

Results: A long stomach delay causes much larger overshoots in BAC than a short delay. Drinking behavior is in both cases well explained by one and the same feedback strategy. Written information about the delay does not reduce overshoots, pre-test experience with a simulator parameterized for a mouse does.

Conclusion: Our study warrants further studies to see if simulator training, analogies, and rules of thumb can help juveniles not to overshoot intended BAC in real drinking situations. It also implies a modification of the 'folk wisdom' of not drinking on an empty stomach.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / psychology*
  • Algorithms
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Beer
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / blood
  • Decision Making
  • Ethanol / blood
  • Female
  • Gastric Emptying / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Models, Statistical
  • Self Concept
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol