Sex Differences in the Personality and Cognitive Characteristics of First-Time DWI Offenders

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2015 Nov;76(6):928-34. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2015.76.928.


Objective: Driving while impaired by alcohol (DWI) is a significant yet preventable public health problem. The overrepresentation of males among DWI offenders has been attributed in part to greater sensation seeking and impulsivity features in males, although recent evidence points to increasing female DWI events. Studies exploring sex differences in DWI to better understand and intervene in these trends are rare and often methodologically lacking. This study examined sex differences among first-time DWI offenders by testing the hypotheses that, compared with non-DWI drivers, male offending is primarily associated with greater impulsive and sensation-seeking personality features and response disinhibition, whereas female offending is primarily associated with greater alcohol misuse.

Method: Male and female drivers ages 18-44 years convicted of a first DWI offense (n = 217) and non-DWI driver controls (n = 79) were recruited and compared on measures of psychosocial characteristics, substance use, personality, and response inhibition.

Results: In partial support of our hypotheses, greater alcohol misuse severity was found in female DWI offenders compared with female non-DWI drivers but an equivalent effect was not detected in males. Counter to hypothesis, greater impulsivity, sensation seeking, and response disinhibition were not found in male non-DWI drivers compared with male non-DWI drivers. Unexpectedly, greater impulsivity was found in female DWI offenders compared with female DWI drivers.

Conclusions: Little evidence was found for impulsivity, sensation seeking, and response disinhibition being factors that directly explain higher rates of DWI offending in males. In contrast, more marked alcohol misuse and trait impulsivity in female DWI drivers suggest a greater vulnerability to uncontrolled drinking leading to dangerous driving. These findings represent a basis for examining sex-related responsivity to distinct approaches to DWI prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Automobile Driving / psychology*
  • Cognition
  • Criminals / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior*
  • Male
  • Personality
  • Sex Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Young Adult