Dispelling Myths Surrounding Alcohol Tolerance

Alcohol tolerance is a phenomenon that is believed to occur in people who consume alcohol so regularly that they no longer feel an effect from the substance. This is usually evidenced in people who can still hold conversations, go to work, perform daily tasks and generally go about their day as if they had no alcohol, when in fact, they have consumed a large quantity. A new study, released by the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, shows that this is true, but they also warn against a commonly held belief regarding alcohol tolerance.

According to new research, long term, heavy drinkers actually perform worse on short-term memory testing, moto speed testing and more complex cognitive processing testing than people who do not drink or who are considered light drinkers.

This means that heavy drinkers are not actually building a tolerance to alcohol that allows them to function normally. According to the study, these drinkers have a longer response time to while undergoing the Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSST). These are tests that are specially designed to mimic tasks like; driving a car, or remembering directions. So, while heavy drinkers are more adept at fine motor skills while under the influence, they are unable to perform complex tasks as well, if it requires more complex thinking.

This study is part of a larger study dedicated to understanding more about behaviors of people while under the influence of alcohol. The Social Drinking Project seeks to unveil some of the most popular myths involving alcohol and alcohol consumption. “Overall, there is a common belief among heavy drinkers that they can ‘handle their alcohol’ and that many common daily tasks may not be affected by their alcohol use. The take-home message here is that tolerance to alcohol is not equal across all tasks and is not ‘protective’ against accidents or injuries while intoxicated,” reported Dr. Ty Brumback.

Brumback also explained how vital it is to understand the difference between fine motor skills and more complex thinking skills. He illustrated the difference by referring to a person who is a heavy drinker, that has just consumed a few drinks at a restaurant. Because that person is able to stand up, walk normally, get in their car and turn it on without any indication they are drunk, they can oftentimes fool themselves and others into thinking that they are not under the influence. But, as the study shows, driving safely and operating a vehicle are more complex, and alcohol plays a definite role in the failure of these skills.