A University of Chicago study reveals that the ability to “handle your liquor” is more complicated than many people realize.
The study examined people with different drinking habits, assessing their ability to perform specific tasks after consuming alcohol.
The participants with alcohol use disorder (AUD) performed just as poorly on certain tasks as participants who identified as light drinkers.
Chicago Social Drinking Project
Andrea King, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of Chicago, conducted the liquor tolerance study as part of the Chicago Social Drinking Project (CSDP).
The CSDP examines the effects of caffeine, antihistamines, and other substances on people with various drinking habits.
The study divided participants into three groups: people who do not binge drink, people who binge drink socially, and people with AUD.
Participants were given alcoholic beverages and asked to perform tasks after 30, 60, 120, and 180 minutes.
One task involved putting pegs into holes on a metal board, an activity designed to test fine motor skills. The other was a cognitive test using a pencil and paper.
Signs Of Impairment
The two tasks revealed different results. On the cognitive test, participants who regularly binge drink showed less impairment than those who usually only consume small amounts of alcohol.
However, the fine motor skills test showed equal amounts of impairment across all groups.
Participants who habitually binge drink experienced motor difficulties at the same rate as participants who do not.
Tolerance Vs. Performance
It is true that many intoxicating substances, including alcohol, create tolerance.
In other words, if a person uses a substance often, they will require more of it to achieve the same euphoric effects.
Nevertheless, even when a substance produces less euphoria over time, it does not necessarily produce less impairment.
The results of this study reveal that our perception of alcohol tolerance doesn’t always line up with the reality of impairment.
During the experiment, heavy social drinkers and participants with AUD self-reported less impairment than light drinkers.
However, the fact that each group performed equally poorly on the fine motor skills test reveals that we cannot always rely on our own assessment when it comes to our ability to “handle liquor.”
Impairment And Alcohol Use Disorder
During the experiment, participants consumed four to five alcohol drinks.
However, the study notes that people with alcohol use disorder do not usually stop drinking after this amount of beverages.
Some participants with AUD participated in a second phase, during which they were given seven to eight beverages, an amount that more closely aligns with their typical drinking habits.
After consuming this amount, participants experienced more than twice the amount of impairment as they did in the initial experiment.
Furthermore, they experienced this impairment on both the cognitive and motor tests.
In spite of the fact that alcohol causes significant impairment, the myth of handling one’s liquor persists. Again, our perception of alcohol tolerance does not always match the reality.
Many people believe that they can tolerate liquor well, and as a result, they may consume more alcohol than their bodies can metabolize effectively.
After drinking, some may also underestimate their impairment level and overestimate their ability to handle certain tasks.
For example, a person may choose to drive after drinking, mistakenly believing that they are not too impaired to operate a car.
It is also worth noting that only 10% of people who meet the criteria for AUD seek treatment for this disorder. Many factors, including social stigma, play a role in this disparity.
The overestimation of one’s alcohol tolerance may also contribute. If somebody does not feel particularly impaired by alcohol, they may not realize that they need help.
Find Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder
AUD is an often misunderstood condition, both by those who experience it and those who do not.
However, it is treatable. If you or a loved one need help to overcome addiction, contact Free Rehab Centers today.
Published on July 5, 2023
Free Rehab Centers aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Chicago Social Drinking Project
- National Library Of Medicine
- UChicago Medicine