If you've ever been told by someone who drinks a lot that they can function better than the rest of us while drunk because they're accustomed to doing so, you can call them out on that B.S. with some science to back it up.
A research study out of the Clinical Addictions Research Laboratory at the University of Chicago suggests what many of us already suspected: those with alcohol-use disorder (formerly called "alcoholics") had cognitive and motor impairments, even when served drinks to match their usual habits.
CNN reports that the study calls into question the idea of having a high tolerance means heavy drinks can function better than casual drinkers. Nathan Didier, a co-author of the study, said, "It seems to be a popular perception that experienced drinkers can handle their liquor—like two cowboys in a bar in a drinking competition, and they have some macho strength to take in so much alcohol and handle it."
The researchers say the study is timely now because binge drinking and "high-intensity drinking," which can mean drinking at least eight to 10 drinks at one time, are both on the rise. Only about 10 percent of people with a major drinking problem seek treatment. Alcohol-use disorder drinkers who were part of a social drinking study that was part of the basis for the research, were downing an average of 38.7 drinks a week; light drinkers consumed about 2.5 per week.
The big takeaway from the study is that even though tolerance does come into play, the impairment heavy drinkers have is real—even if they refuse to acknowledge it. "Even if you have a lot of experience drinking, that doesn’t mean that you’re not impaired," Didier said.