Acute and chronic effects of alcohol on trail making test performance among underage drinkers in a field setting

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2013 Jul;74(4):635-41. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2013.74.635.


Objective: Alcohol's effects on executive functioning are well documented. Research in this area has provided much information on both the acute and chronic effects of alcohol on processes such as working memory and mental flexibility. However, most research on the acute effects of alcohol is conducted with individuals older than 21 years of age. Using field recruitment methods can provide unique empirical data on the acute effects of alcohol on an underage population.

Method: The current study examined the independent effects of acute alcohol intoxication (measured by breath alcohol content) and chronic alcohol use (measured by years drinking) on a test of visuomotor performance and mental flexibility (Trail Making Test) among 91 drinkers ages 18-20 years recruited from a field setting.

Results: Results show that breath alcohol predicts performance on Trails B, but not on Trails A, and that years drinking, above and beyond acute intoxication, predicts poorer performance on both Trails A and B.

Conclusions: These data suggest that, independent of the acute effects of alcohol, chronic alcohol consumption has deleterious effects on executive functioning processes among underage drinkers. Our discussion focuses on the importance of these data in describing the effect of alcohol on adolescents and the potential for engaging in risky behavior while intoxicated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / physiopathology*
  • Breath Tests
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Ethanol / analysis
  • Executive Function / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Time Factors
  • Trail Making Test
  • Young Adult


  • Ethanol