Acute tolerance to alcohol impairment of behavioral and cognitive mechanisms related to driving: Drinking and driving on the descending limb

Jessica Weafer, Mark T. Fillmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Rationale Alcohol effects on behavioral and cognitive mechanisms influence impaired driving performance and decisions to drive after drinking (Barry 1973; Moskowitz and Robinson 1987). To date, research has focused on the ascending limb of the blood alcohol curve, and there is little understanding of how acute tolerance to impairment of these mechanisms might influence driving behavior on the descending limb. Objectives To provide an integrated examination of the degree to which alcohol impairment of motor coordination and inhibitory control contributes to driving impairment and decisions to drive on the ascending and descending limbs of the blood alcohol curve. Methods Social-drinking adults (N=20) performed a testing battery that measured simulated driving performance and willingness to drive, as well as mechanisms related to driving: motor coordination (grooved pegboard), inhibitory control (cued go/no-go task), and subjective intoxication. Performance was tested in response to placebo and a moderate dose of alcohol (0.65 g/kg) twice at comparable blood alcohol concentrations: once on the ascending limb and again on the descending limb. Results Impaired motor coordination and subjective intoxication showed acute tolerance, whereas driving performance and inhibitory control showed no recovery from impairment. Greater motor impairment was associated with poorer driving performance under alcohol, and poorer inhibitory control was associated with more willingness to drive. Conclusions Findings suggest that acute tolerance to impairment of motor coordination is insufficient to promote recovery of driving performance and that the persistence of alcohol-induced disinhibition might contribute to risky decisions to drive on the descending limb.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)697-706
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Grants R01 AA018274, R01 AA012895, and F31 AA018584. The authors have no conflict of interest to declare. J.Weafer . M. T. Fillmore (*) Department of Psychology, University of Kentucky, Kastle Hall, Lexington, KY 40506-0044, USA e-mail: [email protected]


  • Acute tolerance
  • Driving
  • Inhibition
  • Motor control
  • Subjective intoxication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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