In a new study from Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, researchers found heavy alcohol drinking is linked to impairments in the ability to interpret other people’s facial expressions, especially in men.
The findings may help explain why alcohol use is often linked to harmful interpersonal and social consequences, such as physical aggression, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, or being victimized.
Heavy drinking is known to have the potential to disrupt the recognition of facial expressions, leading to misinterpretation. This may in turn contribute to inappropriate behaviors.
In the study, the team explored the influence of alcohol intoxication on recognizing facial emotions in a real-world setting, involving men and women across a wide range of drinking levels.
They worked with 114 adults recruited near restaurants and bars in a mid-southern US town over three nights.
The team found participants who were more intoxicated were less accurate at identifying facial emotions. Increased intoxication was linked to lower accuracy among men; the decline in accuracy among women was not strong.
The most accurately identified facial emotion was happiness; the least accurately identified emotion was sadness.
Overall, higher alcohol drinking as linked to worse emotion recognition for the images showing sadness, disgust, and neutrality. Among men, higher drinking correlated with worse emotion recognition for sadness, anger, and neutrality.
The findings support alcohol myopia theory, which describes how intoxication affects the interpretation of social and environmental cues.
Alcohol-induced deficits in processing social information, especially for men, may contribute to aggression and violence.
It is possible too that this effect could motivate drinking among people with social anxiety, who may use alcohol to alter perceptions they find threatening.
Women score higher at facial emotion recognition generally, potentially insulating them against this impairing effect of alcohol.
If you care about alcohol drinking, please read studies about long-term alcohol drinking may lead to these mental problems and findings of alcohol may harm the heart immediately in these people.
For more information about alcohol and your health, please see recent studies about this diet can reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms and results showing that a simple way to reduce irregular heart rhythm: No alcohol drinking.
The study is published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. One author of the study is Alexander Melkonian.
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