-- Robert Preidt
FRIDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- The way that alcohol impairs
reasoning and problem-solving abilities may explain why some people
feel they're fit to drive even though they're drunk, researchers
The study looked at how cognitive abilities, which affect
thinking skills, are affected during both rising and declining
levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC). BAC is a measurement
used to determine intoxication, usually for legal or medical
In the laboratory, participants consumed alcoholic drinks over
an eight-hour period to bring their BAC up to 0.10 percent and then
waited for their levels to return to a normal BAC.
As their BAC levels rose and then fell during the experiment,
the participants were asked to describe their feelings of
drunkenness and they were assessed on their ability to navigate a
hidden maze learning task on a computer.
Sober young adults make few mistakes on this test. But in this
experiment, errors increased dramatically with rising BAC levels
and the rate of errors did not decline dramatically even when the
participants said they felt less drunk, the study authors
The type of cognitive functioning used in the computer test is
important for driving skills and making judgments in terms of
traveling through intersections or changing lanes, the researchers
The findings show that executive function doesn't recover as
quickly after drinking as basic functions such as motor speed and
information processing speed, said study leader Peter J. Snyder,
vice president of research for Lifespan, a nonprofit health care
system based in Providence, R.I.
"The subjective feeling that you are drunk does recover more quickly. This explains why so many individuals feel subjectively that they are able to get into a car and be able to drive and feel safe. But that subjective impression does not mesh with the actual recovery in terms of higher order executive functions," Snyder said in a Lifespan news release.
In the United States, many states enforce a legal BAC limit of
0.08 to 0.10 percent. At those levels, a 16- to 20-year-old male
driver's risk of a crash is nearly 52 times greater than normal,
according to the background information provided in the news
The study is published in the August issue of the journal
Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more
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