Most studies of risk factors for alcohol-related problems have focused on biological family history as a primary risk factor. However, other factors, such as early-age heavy drinking, are also risk factors for sustained or progressive heavy consumption. Little is currently known about the mechanisms underlying binge or heavy drinking.
This study examined the acute subjective and objective effects of ethanol in heavy drinkers versus light drinkers. Thirty-four subjects participated in this within-subjects study consisting of three early-evening testing sessions in which subjects consumed a beverage containing either 0.8 or 0.4 g/kg ethanol or placebo.
Compared with lighter drinkers, heavy drinkers were more sensitive to the positive stimulant-like effects of ethanol (p < 0.05), especially during the increasing limb of the blood alcohol curve. Heavy drinkers also showed less sedation and cortisol response after alcohol than the light drinkers (p < 0.05).
The results indicate that young adult binge drinkers show a biphasic alcohol response, with heightened sensitivity to stimulant-like alcohol effects and greater tolerance to sedative alcohol effects compared with their light-drinking counterparts.