Acute disinhibiting effects of alcohol as a factor in risky driving behavior

Mark T. Fillmore, Jaime S. Blackburn, Emily L.R. Harrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Automobile crash reports show that up to 40% of fatal crashes in the United States involve alcohol and that younger drivers are over-represented. Alcohol use among young drivers is associated with impulsive and risky driving behaviors, such as speeding, which could contribute to their over-representation in alcohol-related crash statistics. Recent laboratory studies show that alcohol increases impulsive behaviors by impairing the drinker's ability to inhibit inappropriate actions and that this effect can be exacerbated in conflict situations where the expression and inhibition of behavior are equally motivating. The present study tested the hypothesis that this response conflict might also intensify the disruptive effects of alcohol on driving performance. Fourteen subjects performed a simulated driving and a cued go/no-go task that measured their inhibitory control. Conflict was motivated in these tasks by providing equal monetary incentives for slow, careful behavior (e.g., slow driving, inhibiting impulses) and for quick, abrupt behavior (fast driving, disinhibition). Subjects were tested under two alcohol doses (0.65 g/kg and a placebo) that were administered twice: when conflict was present and when conflict was absent. Alcohol interacted with conflict to impair inhibitory control and to increase risky and impaired driving behavior on the drive task. Also, individuals whose inhibitory control was most impaired by alcohol displayed the poorest driving performance under the drug. The study demonstrates potentially serious disruptions to driving performance as a function of alcohol intoxication and response conflict, and points to inhibitory control as an important underlying mechanism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-106
Number of pages10
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - May 1 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Role of funding source: Funding for this study was provided by Grant R01 AA12895 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and by Grant R21 DA021027 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. These agencies had no further role in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the paper for publication.


  • Alcohol
  • Driving
  • Impulsivity
  • Response conflict

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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