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Alcohol Affects Reaction Time

Posted in Research

A delay in reaction time while under the influence of alcohol is one of the key reasons that it is dangerous to drive a vehicle after drinking. Alcohol impairs many cognitive functions, but until recently it was undetermined how the built-in control systems of the brain were affected by alcohol.

A study will be published in the January 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research that explores the impact of alcohol on built-in controls systems and found that some brain regions are more affected by alcohol in processing errors than other areas of the brain.

Lead author of the paper, Beth Anderson, a postdoctoral fellow at the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Centre at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut explains that the research is only the beginning of exploring the altering effects of alcohol on the brain. She hopes that further research will be useful in educating the public about the consequences of consuming alcohol.

The study enrolled 38 volunteers who were given different doses of alcohol to establish a breath alcohol concentration of zero for the control group, 0.05 percent for moderate intoxication, or 1.0 percent for a high level of alcohol consumption. There was an interval given to allow time for intoxication, after which the volunteers participated in a Go/No-Go reaction test. They were required to watch a screen where the letters “K” and “X” were displayed randomly and they were to press a button only when “X” was displayed.

The results of the test revealed no significant difference between the control and moderate intoxication groups, but among the high dose group there was a significantly increased reaction time, more errors and an overall decrease of success.

The researchers believe that the difference between the performances of the moderately intoxicated group and the heavily intoxicated group was based on the incremental increase of alcohol consumed. The increased reaction time may be explained as an attempt to compensate for additional impairment. The heavily intoxicated group may have slowed down in their decision-making to avoid making more errors.

The authors of the study introduce the research as an introduction to beginning to unravel the mystery of the brain’s functioning under the influence of alcohol. More research will be required to understand the complexity of the brain’s reaction to alcohol.

As more research is completed, it will be possible to detail the physical changes in the brain caused by the consumption of alcohol and better inform the public about how their cognitive skills are affected by drinking.