Alcohol consumption leads to a number of behavioral problems, including increased risk of accidents, interpersonal conflict, and risky decision-making, which account for significant health care costs in the U.S. annually. Recent research indicates that alcohol causes impairment of so-called "executive cognitive functions" (ECFs), and suggests that this impairment is the driving force behind alcohol-related changes in behavior. However, alcohol's effects on ECF, including whether particular aspects of ECF are more susceptible to alcohol-induced impairment than others, are not fully understood. In addition, there are wide individual differences in executive ability, but very little is known about how these baseline differences may moderate the acute effects of alcohol on ECF. Therefore, the long-term objective of this proposal is to increase understanding of alcohol's effects on ECF, including which aspects of ECF are most impaired by alcohol, how separable aspects of ECF relate to one another, and how these effects differ between individuals. To achieve this goal, a series of specific aims will be addressed using 3 experiments.
These aims i nclude determining alcohol's effects on three specific components of ECF (shifting, updating, and inhibition), testing whether alcohol-induced impairment of ECF differs on the ascending and descending limbs of the blood alcohol concentration curve, and the extent to which baseline differences in ECFs moderate the acute effects of alcohol. Finally, the three experiments are designed so as to permit an overarching meta-analytic integration using data from all of them, in order to test how the three components of ECF relate to one another and to performance on complex executive tasks. A design like this has never been used in any published study on the effects of alcohol. The outcome of this project will have important implications for understanding the cognitive impairment resulting from alcohol intoxication.

Public Health Relevance

Alcohol is known to cloud thinking and impair judgment. These effects are believed to be important causes of the many alcohol-related accidents and risky behaviors that annually account for significant tax-funded health care costs in the U.S. The proposed research is aimed at specifying alcohol's cognitive effects on behavior, which ultimately can point to strategies for reducing intoxication-related harm.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Comprehensive Center (P60)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZAA1-BB)
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Washington University
Saint Louis
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