Binge Drinking, Reflection Impulsivity, and Unplanned Sexual Behavior: Impaired Decision-Making in Young Social Drinkers
The repeated pattern of heavy intoxication followed by withdrawal from alcohol (i.e., “binge drinking”) has been found to have substantial adverse effects on prefrontal neural systems associated with decision-making and impulse control. Repeated binge drinking has been linked to risky and unplanned sexual behavior; however few studies have examined the role of impulsivity and related cognitive processes in understanding this association. The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between binge drinking, “reflection impulsivity” (deficits in gathering and evaluating information during decision-making), alcohol-related expectancies, and unplanned sexual behavior in a sample of young social drinkers.
Ninety-two university students completed the alcohol use questionnaire (AUQ) to measure alcohol intake and binge drinking. Two groups (low-binge and high-binge) were generated from the AUQ data. The Information Sampling Task (IST) was used to measure reflection impulsivity; the Alcohol Expectancy Questionnaire (AEQ) for alcohol outcome expectancies; and an unplanned sexual behavior questionnaire, which asked about the number of unplanned sexual events.
When compared to the low-binge drinking group, the high-binge drinkers had significantly more unplanned sexual encounters and were impaired on the IST, reflection-impulsivity task. They scored higher on the alcohol expectancy factors of sociability, risk and aggression, negative self-perception, and in particular liquid courage. In a regression analysis, number of unplanned sexual encounters, binge drinking score, and liquid courage were all significantly related.
These results support the role of binge drinking in reduced impulse control and decision-making deficits. The findings indicate that high-binge drinkers demonstrate impairments on an impulse control task similar to that observed in dependent samples and this may be a factor in understanding the negative behavioral consequences associated with excessive alcohol use.