Subjective Perceptions Associated with the Ascending and Descending Slopes of Breath Alcohol Exposure Vary with Recent Drinking History

Leah Wetherill, Sandra L. Morzorati, Tatiana Foroud, Kyle Windisch, Todd Darlington, Ulrich S. Zimmerman, Martin H. Plawecki, Sean J. O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Scopus citations


Background: The differentiator model predicts that individuals with a positive family history of alcoholism (FHA) or heavy alcohol consumers will feel more sensitive to the effects of alcohol on the ascending phase of the blood alcohol content while feeling less sedated on the descending phase. This study tested whether subjective perceptions are sensitive to the slope of breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) and whether that sensitivity is associated with an FHA and/or recent drinking history (RDH). Methods: Family-history-positive (FHP, n=27) and family-history-negative (FHN, n=27) young adult nondependent drinkers were infused intravenously with alcohol in 2 sessions separated by 1week. After 20minutes, one session had an ascending BrAC (+3.0mg%/min), while the other session had a descending BrAC (-1mg%/min). The BrAC for both sessions at this point was approximately 60mg%, referred to as the crossover point. Subjective perceptions of intoxication, high, stimulated, and sedation were sampled frequently and then interpolated to the crossover point. Within-subject differences between ascending and descending responses were examined for associations with FHA and/or RDH. Results: Recent moderate drinkers reported increased perceptions of feeling intoxicated (p<0.023) and high (p<0.023) on the ascending slope compared with the descending slope. In contrast, recent light drinkers felt more intoxicated and high on the descending slope. Conclusions: Subjective perceptions in young adult social drinkers depend on the slope of the BrAC when examined in association with RDH. These results support the differentiator model hypothesis concerning the ascending slope and suggest that moderate alcohol consumers could be at risk for increased alcohol consumption because they feel more intoxicated and high on the ascending slope. Subjects did not feel less sedated on the descending slope, contrary to the differentiator model but replicating several previous studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1050-1057
Number of pages8
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012


  • Recent Drinking History
  • Slope of Brain Exposure to Alcohol
  • Subjective Perceptions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Toxicology

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