Neurophysiological Correlates of Moderate Alcohol Consumption in Older and Younger Social Drinkers


Reprint requests: Ben Lewis, Department of Psychiatry, University of Florida, PO Box 100256, Gainesville, FL 32610; Tel.: 352-294-4920; Fax: 352-294-0197; E-mail:



Nearly 40% of adults aged 65 and older in the United States consume alcohol. Research in older adults has largely examined potential health effects of a moderate drinking lifestyle. Examination of acute effects in this population is generally lacking. To investigate alcohol-induced alteration of electrophysiological correlates of attention in this population, we employed a covert attentional task. We hypothesized that moderate alcohol administration as well as older age would reduce P3 amplitude and increase latency. We anticipated an interaction such that, relative to their age-matched controls, older adults receiving alcohol would be more affected than their younger counterparts.


Participants included healthy older (aged 50 to 67; n = 20; 9 men) and younger (aged 25 to 35; n = 12; 5 men) moderate drinkers. Participants received either a moderate dose of alcohol (breath alcohol concentration ∼50 mg/dl) or a placebo beverage. Following absorption, the task was administered and neurophysiological measures were obtained. P3 amplitude and latency were separately subjected to ANOVA across cue conditions using age and dose as independent variables.


As predicted, P3 amplitude in older adults was significantly lower than in younger adults across cue conditions. An age by alcohol interaction was detected, revealing that older adults receiving alcohol showed lower P3 amplitudes than any other group. An age effect for P3 latency was found, with older adults having longer latencies than their younger counterparts. A significant age by alcohol interaction for P3 latency was detected, revealing that older adults receiving alcohol displayed delayed P3 latencies relative to older adults receiving placebo. In contrast, younger adults receiving alcohol had reduced latency compared to those receiving placebo, although this effect did not reach significance.


Results suggest that older adults demonstrated alcohol-related shifts in P3 characteristics during an intentional attention task, whereas younger adults failed to demonstrate this pattern.