How Alcohol Can Impair Judgement
Alcohol use can affect the brain and body in complex ways, potentially altering one’s behaviors and leading to negative outcomes. Impaired judgement, though difficult to quantify, can lead one to engage in risky behavior and lead to poor outcomes for one’s health and social standing.1 Understanding how alcohol can affect decision making can help you make healthy life choices.
Why Does Alcohol Impair Judgement and Lower Inhibitions?
Alcohol has many well-studied effects on a person’s mind.1 Through changes in mood and cognition, a person may engage in behaviors they would not consider when sober.2 Research that put several alcohol-dependent individuals in situations where they had to make decisions under ambiguity or risk found that many exhibited impaired decision-making processes.1 While not everyone will experience the same type of impaired judgement due to alcohol consumption, it is worth understanding that alcohol can affect the brain, impair judgement, and lower inhibitions.1
Poor Decision-Making While Under the Influence of Alcohol
Some may consider small amounts of alcohol to be potentially beneficial in social situations, but the interactions between alcohol and the brain can be far more complex. While some may believe alcohol is harmless in small amounts, even low doses have effects on memory.7 In addition, inhibition is may be impaired before other parts of the brain, so a person may experience lowered inhibitions before noticing they are affected.2
Alcohol and Violent or Aggressive Behaviors
Alcohol has been recognized as playing a large role in violence.3 Due to alcohol’s ability to disrupt normal brain functioning, it may lead one to be more likely to engage in violent or aggressive behaviors.3 One statistical analysis showed that up to 86% of homicide offenders, 60% of sexual offenders, and 57% of men involved in marital violence were drinking at the time of the offense.3
Though there is a clear association, it does not mean that alcohol is the sole cause of aggression. Sometimes, a person who wishes to engage in a violent act may drink in order to increase their courage to complete the act or with the intention of using alcohol as an excuse for their actions.3 While some people may be more prone to aggression or violence, there is clear evidence to suggest that for certain individuals alcohol may increase the risk of them engaging in violent or aggressive behaviors.3
Alcohol, DUIs, and Car Accidents
Other societal consequences of alcohol misuse are legal and physical ramifications due to drinking while driving.4 Even below the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC), a person experiences reduced visual function, impaired coordination and ability to multitask, and delayed response to emergency situations.4 At and above a BAC of 0.08, concentration, speed control, information processing, ability to maintain lane position, and appropriate braking can all be significantly affected.4 Alcohol intoxication and impaired judgement may play a significant role both in the decision to drive, but also in resultant car accidents. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), driving is done most effectively and safely when the driver is able to maintain focus, coordination, quick reaction times, and good judgement.5 Alcohol can not only impair judgement if consumed to excess, but also impair these other qualities, leading to risky driving.5
Risky Sexual Behavior
Risky sexual behaviors have been correlated with alcohol use in multiple studies.3 This is partly due to alcohol’s negative effect on a person’s ability to think, plan, and reasonably evaluate situations, potentially leading to increased sexual risk taking. 2
Examples of risky sexual encounters may include:6
- Sex at a young age.
- Having multiple sexual partners at a time.
- Sex without a condom.
- Sex with a partner who injects drugs.
- Sex with a partner who frequently engages in risky sexual behaviors.
- Intercourse under the influence of substances.
- Forced sexual encounters.
The consequences of risky sex may include contraction of HIV or other STDs, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and legal or familial consequences.6
Finding Treatment for Alcohol Misuse and Addiction
The consequences associated with alcohol misuse may be the result of alcohol use disorder. Some people may find themselves struggling to manage the negative consequences of their substance use before they recognize a problem. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol misuse or addiction, help is available. Starting a conversation with your doctor or visiting the SAMHSA treatment locator can be an easy way to get started.
There are also helplines available by phone or online. The American Addiction Centers addiction helpline is available to help people connect with treatment centers that are equipped with their treatment and insurance needs. These helplines are open 24/7 and the caring staff responding to them can answer a wide variety of questions regarding addiction treatment. Reach out today by calling .
- National Library of Medicine. (2014). Impaired decision-making under risk in individuals with alcohol dependence.
- National Library of Medicine. (2010). Acute Alcohol Effects on Inhibitory Control and Implicit Cognition: Implications for Loss of Control Over Drinking.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2000). Alcohol Alert No. 38.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Department. (2021). Drunk Driving.
- Centers for Disease Control. (2022). Impaired Driving: Get the Facts.
- Sarkar, Siddharth, and Chawla, Nishtha. (2019). Defining “High-risk Sexual Behavior” in the Context in Substance Abuse.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2022). Alcohol and the Brain: An Overview.