Perception of alcohol intoxication shows acute tolerance while executive functions remain impaired.Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 2010; 18(4):329-39EC
Several psychological constructs (e.g., subjective perception of intoxication, visuomotor speed) display acute tolerance to alcohol, that is, show improvement at declining blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) relative to equivalent rising BACs. However, methodological challenges emerge when attempting to make such comparisons across limbs of the BAC curve, which have proven a barrier to advancing research on acute tolerance. To date, no studies have made multiple comparisons across the entire BAC trajectory. This study employs experimental procedures that overcome some of these difficulties, offering a clearer picture of recovery of impairment for subjective perception of intoxication and cognitive performance and the relationship between them. Twenty participants were assessed at multiple time points over 2 days. Continuous subjective perception of intoxication ratings and cognitive data derived from a computerized measure were paired with a novel analytic paradigm, which allowed comparisons at identified BACs. Results showed acute tolerance for individuals' subjective perception of intoxication and for performance on cognitive tasks measuring visuomotor speed and learning efficiency (recovery from impairment). In contrast, performance on measures of executive function and short-term memory showed no significant difference between limbs at exact concentrations (no recovery from impairment). Therefore, despite participants feeling less intoxicated over time, many cognitive functions remained impaired. The implication for these findings in terms of drunken driving behavior are substantial, suggesting that people may be likely to drive once they subjectively perceive that they have recovered from the acute intoxicating effects of alcohol, despite the persistence of "higher order" cognitive impairments.