Safe alcohol limits questioned: Study warns single pint has major impact

Another study has called into question existing alcohol limits, this one focusing on the impact of low quantities of alcohol and how it may impact drivers. It's generally believed that consuming one low-alcohol beverage has minimal effects, but new research warns that may not be true. A single glass of wine or pint of beer, the study claims, may have a major impact on one's sense of agency.

Alcohol's effect on self-control

A 'sense of agency' refers to one's sense of self-control over personal behaviors, including both the decision to perform any given action or to resist certain behaviors in light of possible consequences. Alcohol is known to inhibit one's sense of agency, potentially leading to unacceptable behaviors that may put people in danger.

This impairment is associated with drunkenness, which is defined as the actions that result from consuming too much alcohol: heightened aggression, inappropriate or risky behaviors, and acting on impulse with little awareness or care of the consequences.

The risk of overconfidence

A new study out of the University of Sussex has found that consuming a low quantity of alcohol can 'significantly compromise' someone's sense of agency. The study's lead author Dr. Silvana De Pirro explained that a single pint of beer is enough to cause this effect.

'This has important implications for legal and social responsibility of drivers,' De Pirro said, 'and begs the question: are current alcohol limits for driving truly safe?'

The research involved participants consuming alcohol, but staying within the legal limits for driving in England, Wales, the US, and Canada — around one or two pints, depending an individual's BMI. Using a stimuli test that involved measuring 'intentional binding,' which points toward one's sense of agency, the researchers found that low amounts of alcohol resulted in the participants feeling overconfident.

Drivers at risk?

Overconfidence may translate into a big risk for drivers. The study indicates that someone who consumed a beer on their lunch break, for example, may drive back to work feeling a bit too confident in their own driving ability, resulting in risk-taking behaviors they may otherwise avoid when sober.

This small but significant behavioral change puts both the person who consumed the alcohol and other drivers on the road at risk. The research follows a recent study that found consuming low amounts of alcohol does not protect consumers from risk of stroke, and that consuming moderate amounts can increase the risk.