Individual differences in sensitivity and tolerance to alcohol

  • Wilson J
  • Plomin R
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Human responses to alcohol—especially sensitivity and acute behavioral tolerance—are being studied within a behavioral genetic design involving comparisons of scores from monozygotic twins, dizygotic twins, nontwin siblings, and unrelated (adoptee) pairs reared in the same family from infancy. The planned genetic analyses must await completion of data collection. The present sample is, however, adequate for analyses of means and for some analyses of individual differences in responses. For most of the measures being used, we find the usual mean decrement in performance after alcohol dosing to 0.100 BAC, but individual differences in response to alcohol are large, and a few individuals actually improve in performance after dosing. Also, on two tests, Cancellation and Block Rotations, there is a significant mean improvement in performance immediately after dosing. As yet we do not have a satisfactory explanation for this phenomenon. On most but not all of the tests, performance improves after the initial decrement during a 3‐hour period in which blood alcohol levels are maintained by additional hourly doses. This improvement may be due in part to practice effects, as well as to the development of acute behavioral tolerance to ethanol (ABTE). We are still exploring ways in which these effects may be disentangled, using data from concurrent placebo control subjects and from pre‐dosing test sessions. It is already apparent, nevertheless, that most of the variability in sensitivity and ABTE is related to pre‐existing individual variability rather than to gender, age, height, weight, or drinking history. By mailing annual questionnaires to all participants, we hope to be able to test the hypothesis that those who were relatively insensitive to ethanol or who showed a relatively large amount of ABTE during the test sessions may be at increased risk for heavy alcohol consumption.

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  • James R. Wilson

  • Robert Plomin

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