Why do some people develop alcohol problems and others do not? Researchers have spent decades exploring factors that put some people at risk for alcohol dependency. Several theories have emerged, including genetic risk factors, psychological risk factors, and social and behavioral risk factors. Tolerance to alcohol has also been examined as a potential pathway for alcohol dependency and addiction. But until now, the effects of acute tolerance to alcohol have not been looked at in a single episode of drinking. Because binge drinking is a significant problem for many individuals, it is important that acute tolerance be studied across various durations of alcohol consumption, including single episodes.
To accomplish this, Mark T. Fillmore of the Department of Psychology at the University of Kentucky conducted a study comparing the effects of a single episode of alcohol consumption between 20 binge drinkers at risk for acute tolerance and 20 nonrisk, casual drinkers. The participants were assessed after consuming moderate levels of alcohol on two separate occasions. Fillmore evaluated their motor coordination and time to recovery. He also assessed their level of inhibitory control, a factor that influences their ability to refuse another drink.
Fillmore found that the participants who were at risk for acute tolerance and had a history of binge drinking had far more motor coordination after moderate alcohol intake than the nonrisk participants. In fact, even though their motor skills were impaired slightly, they recovered back to normal levels of motor coordination long before their blood alcohol levels returned to normal. When he looked at inhibitory control, Fillmore found that both groups exhibited similar levels of impairment. But the at-risk drinkers were able to execute their actions better than nonrisk drinkers. This bias or tolerance could explain why at-risk drinkers, and binge drinkers in particular, continue to drink impulsively even when they experience drops in blood alcohol content. Fillmore added, “In sum, these findings highlight the importance of examining specific mechanisms of tolerance in relation to abuse potential.”
Fillmore, Mark T., and Jessica Weafer. Acute Tolerance to Alcohol in At-risk Binge Drinkers. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 26.4 (2012): 693-702. Print.
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