, Volume 182, Issue 1, pp 160–169 | Cite as

The acute effect of alcohol on decision making in social drinkers

Original Investigation



Many studies have reported the long-term adverse effects of alcohol on executive cognitive function in chronic alcohol abusers, yet little research has investigated the acute effects of alcohol in social drinkers. Studies on acute effects report alcohol-induced deficits on tasks that require executive cognitive processes, with alcohol acting to increase preservative errors and reduce planning.


The present investigation examines the acute effects of a moderate dose of alcohol on a decision-making task that involves participants making a forced choice between two simultaneously presented binary-outcome gambles.


Alcohol (0.6 g/kg) or placebo was administered to 32 social drinkers. Participants completed the task, making a total of 80 decisions about gambles that varied in the magnitude of expected gains, losses and the probability with which these outcomes were delivered. Participants also chose between gambles probing identified non-normative biases in human decision making, namely, risk aversion for choosing between gains and risk seeking for choosing between losses.


All participants picked the experimental gamble more frequently when the probability of winning was high vs low, when the gains were large vs small and when the losses were small vs large; the alcohol group had an impaired ability to factor in the magnitude of gains and the likelihood of winning when the losses were large. Deliberation time did not differ between the groups.


These data suggest that alcohol given acutely impairs risky decision making. In particular, alcohol impairs one's ability to alter responding in light of changing prospective rewards in order to make favourable decisions.


Executive function Impulsivity Matching Familiar Figures task Decision-making task Risky choice 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, School of Life SciencesUniversity of SussexBrightonUK
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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