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Addict Behav. 1991;16(5):355-62.

Experience with alcohol and ability to discriminate legal intoxication status: a field study.

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Department of Psychology, Clemson University, SC 29634.


The research on blood alcohol level (BAL) discrimination training indicates that normal social drinkers can be taught to estimate successfully their level of intoxication. These studies show, however, that prior to training, skills for estimating intoxication are poor. The current study was undertaken to demonstrate that a sample of individuals in an actual drinking setting would have difficulty in estimating their blood alcohol level. It was expected that greater experience with alcohol would be associated with poorer abilities to discriminate legal intoxication. Subjects were 99 volunteers selected from the patrons of two bars. Participants completed a brief questionnaire assessing their typical alcohol use, the number of drinks consumed on this particular occasion, and whether they believed that they were currently over the legal limit for intoxication. A breathalyzer was used to determine actual level of intoxication. Results generally supported the hypotheses. Situational factors, including experimenter and drinking location, affected accuracy of estimations. Actual BAL also had a significant effect on accuracy. Errors in estimation were most often in the direction of overestimating intoxication. There was also a sex of subject effect, with males being heavier drinkers and estimating intoxication more poorly than females. Results are discussed in terms of situation and expectancy effects.

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