Impulsive People & Drunk Driving

Alcohol consumption may bring out the impulsive and risk taking nature in some

(RxWiki News) What happens to impulsive people when they drink? What about when it comes to drinking and driving?

A recent study tested 29 college age young adults for impulsivity when they were sober and drunk. Results found that alcohol makes impulsive people act even more impulsive.

"Never ever drink and drive!"

Denis M. McCarthy, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Missouri, led an investigation into drinking and driving behaviors.

For the study, 29 young adults drinkers were recruited from the University of Missouri and its community in Columbia, Missouri.

For the baseline assessment, participants were given a Stop-Signal Task and Two Choice Impulsivity Paradigm (TCIP) to assess behavioral inhibition and patience.

The Stop-Signal Task was simple, green or red, left or right arrows would appear on a computer screen and the participant would tap designated buttons on a keyboard according to instructions.

How fast and accurate the responses were helped to determine how much self-control and impulse response each participant had.

The TCIP was also a computer test, which tested participant’s feelings for delayed rewards. Participants chose between two shapes, one led to a five second delay and a five-cent reward and the other led to a 15 second delay and a 15-cent reward.

Participants were also asked to answer a questionnaire about five impulsive traits: negative urgency, lack of perseverance, lack of premeditation, sensation seeking and positive urgency.

For the second part of the experiment, the participants were asked to come back in 1-2 weeks later for the alcohol portion to complete the same tasks.

A total of 45 percent of the group self-reported drinking and driving after three drinks in two hours in the last year.

When comparing the drinking and driving group to the other 55 percent of the group with the tests, researchers found that the drinking and driving group made more impulsive choices on the TCIP test.

The drinking and driving group made virtually the same amount of TCIP immediate choices as the non-drinking and driving group when sober.

The drinking and driving group made about twice the impulsive decisions as non-drinking and driving while getting drunk.

And, the drinking and driving group made nearly three times the impulsive decisions as the non-drinking and driving group after a drinking session.

Authors said, “Our results suggest that, for individuals who drive after drinking, the acute effects of alcohol shift the balance of this trade-off in favor of short-term rewards.”

This study was published in August in Addiction. Funding for the study was provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, no conflicts of interest were found.

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Review Date: 
August 22, 2012