Objectives: In this preliminary study of alcohol effects on aviators' flight simulator performance, we addressed some methodological issues regarding possible gender-related differences in response to alcohol.
Methods: Subjects were 11 male and 12 female general aviation pilots, ages 21-40. Subjects received 8 h of training before they were tested with alcohol. On the alcohol test day they were tested before drinking, while intoxicated (target BAC of 0.08%), and 8 h after drinking.
Results: The average, observed peak BAC readings for men and women were within 0.003% of each other. We observed faster disappearance rates for women such that women reached the FAA cutoff of 0.04% approximately 1 h before men, on average. Compared to predrink performance, there was a significant decrement in simulator performance during acute intoxication, but not 8 h after drinking. There were no significant gender differences in performance before or after drinking alcohol. Slower rates of alcohol elimination were associated with larger performance changes 8 h after drinking. This is the first report to our knowledge suggesting a possible relation between alcohol elimination rate and change in performance after drinking alcohol.
Conclusions: A 12.5% dose reduction for women appears to be adequate for achieving comparable peak BAC's for male and female groups. Future studies using measures of circadian rhythmicity in conjunction with pharmacokinetic and performance measures could potentially shed light on differences in subjects' acute and delayed responses to alcohol.