Men, Women Drinkers React Differently

Contact: Ralph Derickson

Photo of Mark Fillmore
Mark Fillmore

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The subjects were tested individually in the research to minimize social interaction between them. They performed a reaction time task that measured their self-control in terms of the ability to quickly initiate and stop behavioral reactions. The subjects’ self control was tested after drinking a moderate dose of alcohol that was the equivalent of three drinks, resulting in a target blood alcohol level of .07 percent, which is below the legal limit for drunken driving charges.

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 20, 2004) -- Research by University of Kentucky associate professor of psychology Mark Fillmore shows that men and women react differently to drinking alcohol.

Fillmore, whose findings were published in the October 2004 edition of Addiction, the professional journal of the Society for the Study of Addiction, said his research shows that men have less impulse control after drinking and that women tend to have an opposite reaction.

“The women feel quite sedated and are not stimulated, whereas men are much more stimulated when drinking alcohol and their ability to inhibit their responses to stimuli is reduced,” Fillmore said. “It has long been believed that this is why men tend to get into more trouble (such as fighting) when drinking than do women.”

Fillmore’s research was conducted under his $750,000, four-year grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the National Institutes of Health. He and Jessica Weafer, an undergraduate student who co-authored the report, tested 12 male and 12 female social drinkers whose average age was about 22.

The subjects were tested individually in the research to minimize social interaction between them. They performed a reaction time task that measured their self-control in terms of the ability to quickly initiate and stop behavioral reactions. The subjects’ self control was tested after drinking a moderate dose of alcohol that was the equivalent of three drinks, resulting in a target blood alcohol level of .07 percent, which is below the legal limit for drunken driving charges.

The men in the test “lost the ability to stop their reactions much more than the women,” Fillmore said. “They made many more impulsive responses during the tests, and they reported feeling more stimulated.”

Fillmore said further research might prove whether the gender differences he detected were a result of physiological differences in the effect of alcohol. “It could be a culturally learned difference, too,” the UK professor added. “Men might have expected to feel differently; they might have expected to be less inhibited.”

Fillmore’s overall research interest focuses on the psychological processes that lead from nondependent social drinking to alcoholism.

A native Canadian, Fillmore has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of New Brunswick, in Saint John, Canada, and master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. He has taught psychology at the UK College of Arts and Sciences since 1999.


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