Drinking alcohol in a new setting makes us lose the inhibitions that we have when drinking at familiar environments, according to a new study.
The results show that people who drank in a new setting were half as likely to stop themselves from giving an inappropriate response during a computer task as people drinking in a familiar place.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham in England gave 24 students alcoholic drinks in one setting, for three drinking sessions, to familiarize them with drinking in that setting. In a second setting, researchers gave the students "placebo drinks," that did not contain alcohol but otherwise tasted like the alcoholic drink.
To test their inhibitions, the students drank the alcoholic drink in one of the settings. While drinking, they completed computer-based tasks designed to measure inhibitions - for example, words appeared on screen and students were instructed to press a button whenever a "happy word" appeared, but were told to hold back from pressing it when a "sad word" appeared. The inability to hold back when a sad word appeared indicates a loss of inhibitions.
The researchers found that when participants drank alcohol in the setting where they'd previously had the placebo drink, they pressed the button incorrectly about 12 times per session.
But when they drank alcohol in the setting where they'd previously had the alcoholic drink, the number dropped to six.
That means, "Tolerance isn't portable," said Mark Fillmore, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky.
"Just because you can function well while drinking in known situations doesn't mean you take that anywhere. It's not a personal attribute," he said.
When you drink in a certain setting, your central nervous system begins to anticipate receiving alcohol whenever you enter that setting, so it might become hyperexcited and counter some of alcohol's effects, he added.
The study was recently published online in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.