Alcohol intoxication reduces visual sustained attention

John W. Rohrbaugh, June M. Stapleton, Raja Parasuraman, Henri W. Frowein, Bryon Adinoff, Jerald L. Varner, Elizabeth A. Zubovic, Elizabeth A. Lane, Michael J. Eckardt, Markku Linnoila

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Effects of alcohol intoxication on visual sustained attention were studied using a vigilance task entailing detection of degraded target stimuli. Data were obtained in separate sessions under four ethanol doses, ranging from 0 (placebo) to 1.05 g/kg lean body weight, with periodic maintenance dosing of 0.12 g/kg. Intoxication lowered the overall level of detection performance, and in addition produced dose-related increases in the rate of performance decrement over time. Analysis of performance data using techniques derived from Signal Detection Theory indicated that the decrements were due specifically to alterations in perceptual sensitivity. Examination of eye movements and blinks indicated that the effects of ethanol were not mediated peripherally. Rather, alcohol appears to have deleterious effects on central processing capacity and the availability of capacity over time. The alcohol-related failure of sustained attention may contribute to increased accident risk in tasks requiring continuous performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)442-446
Number of pages5
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1988


  • Alcohol
  • Ethanol
  • Sustained attention
  • Vigilance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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