The interaction between alcohol and the residual effects of thiopental anesthesia

Anesthesiology. 1993 Jul;79(1):28-35. doi: 10.1097/00000542-199307000-00007.


Background: During ambulatory surgery, barbiturates, such as thiopental, may impair psychomotor performance several hours after administration. It was hypothesized that if patients drink alcohol 4 h after thiopental injection, the increase in psychomotor impairment would be greater than that seen after alcohol ingestion alone.

Methods: Twelve healthy men volunteered to participate in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study with a Latin square design. On each testing day, the subjects received intravenous injections of either 5 mg/kg of 2.5% thiopental or an equal volume of saline for 30 s. Four hours after injection, the subjects consumed a beverage with or without 0.7 g/kg alcohol. Psychomotor performance and mood were assessed at five times: prior to injection, at 1 h and 3 h after injection, and at 1 h and 3 h after consumption of beverage.

Results: Both thiopental and alcohol had strong independent effects on the dependent measures in this study. In addition, body sway, one of the nine psychomotor tests used to assess impairment, was greater after thiopental and alcohol than after alcohol alone. Of eleven adjectives used to assess mood, lightheadedness was cited most frequently after a combination of thiopental and alcohol than after each alone.

Conclusions: Based on our tests of performance and mood, an interaction between thiopental and alcohol is evident; in addition, the interaction between both drugs may exert deleterious effects on higher levels of central nervous system integration.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anesthesia
  • Anesthesia Recovery Period
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Interactions
  • Ethanol / adverse effects
  • Ethanol / pharmacokinetics
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Thiopental*


  • Ethanol
  • Thiopental