Acute alcohol effects on impulsivity: associations with drinking and driving behavior

Addiction. 2012 Dec;107(12):2109-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2012.03974.x. Epub 2012 Aug 10.


Aims: Although drink drivers exhibit higher levels of trait impulsivity, no studies have tested the hypothesis that drink drivers experience increased impulsivity while intoxicated. We tested this hypothesis for two impulsivity constructs: delay discounting and behavioral inhibition.

Design: A within-subjects study comparing performance of drink drivers and non-drink drivers on behavioral measures of impulsivity in alcohol and no-beverage sessions.

Setting: A laboratory setting at the University of Missouri.

Participants: Twenty-nine young adults who were at least moderate drinkers were recruited from the local community and the University of Missouri.

Measurements: Impulsivity was assessed using the Two Choice Impulsivity Paradigm (TCIP) and the Stop-Signal Task. Participants also completed self-report measures of binge drinking and trait impulsivity.

Findings: In the no-beverage session, TCIP impulsive choices did not differ between drinking and driving groups (P = 0.93). In the alcohol session, drink drivers made more TCIP impulsive choices on both the ascending (P < 0.01) and descending limb (P < 0.01) of the blood alcohol concentration curve than their peers who did not drink and drive. Drinking and driving groups did not differ on the Stop-Signal Task. Supplementary analyses indicated that effects for the TCIP were not explained by individual differences in trait impulsivity.

Conclusions: Individuals who report having three or more drinks before driving show greater impulsivity when under the influence of alcohol than those who do not report heavy drinking before driving.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Automobile Driving / psychology*
  • Automobile Driving / statistics & numerical data
  • Binge Drinking / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult