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Alcohol and Health Decision Making

  • By: Jennifer L. Monahan
  • In: Encyclopedia of Health Communication
  • Edited by: Teresa L. Thompson
  • Subject:Public Health Education & Health Promotion, Health Psychology, Health Communication

Decision making includes the prediction of possible outcomes, evaluation of alternatives, planning, selecting an action, and learning from feedback. Researchers repeatedly find that alcohol consumption results in poorer decision making, resulting in risky health-related behavior including injuries, unprotected sex with a new partner, sexual violence, and dangerous driving patterns. Alcohol affects health decision making via two mechanisms: a drug mechanism that produces pharmacological effects and an expectancy mechanism that produces psychological effects.

Pharmacological Effects

The major theories of alcohol's pharmacological effect on decision making share the common themes that alcohol reduces inhibitions, restricts mental processing, and impairs cognitive capacity. One prominent theory is alcohol myopia theory (AMT). According to AMT, alcohol affects social perceptions such that an intoxicated person will attend to a restricted range of cues, ...

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