A memorable scene in The Wolf of Wall Street makes for a pretty good comparison of how many of us think we behaved when intoxicated compared to how we actually acted. What the memory recalls as a seamless stroll home can later be revealed to have been a less than elegant stagger, dirty kebab in hand. New research published in the journal Studies on Alcohol and Drugs has found that now even your phone can tell if you’re drunk based on the way your gait changes as you become intoxicated. It’s hoped that the novel technology can provide smartphone users with real-time information about their levels of intoxication with the goal of protecting them from overconsumption or preventing drink driving.
The study invited 22 adults to a lab to get lit, consuming enough vodka and mixer in one hour to produce a breath alcohol concentration of 20 percent. For the next seven hours, they had hourly breath alcohol and walking tests, with each participant carrying a smartphone on their lower back. They were asked to walk 10 steps in a line, turn and walk another 10 steps – a simple task for the sound of mind but a little more challenging for the inebriated.
Smartphones are able to measure speed and movement going side to side, up and down and forward and backward. Incredibly, the researchers were able to predict if a participant's breath alcohol was over 0.08 percent (the legal limit for driving in the United States) in 90 percent of cases. While the researchers admit that the sample size for the experiment was small, they report that the ratio of correct assumptions shows how valuable a tool our smartphones can be in reporting our state of inebriation. They hope to further the research in creating a real-time drinking feedback tool that can help sponsors support alcoholics undergoing treatment as well as keeping drinkers and the general public safe by reducing rates of drink driving.
"I lost a close friend to a drinking and driving crash in college, and as an emergency physician I have taken care of scores of adults with injuries related to acute alcohol intoxication,” said lead researcher Brian Suffoletto MD in a statement. “Because of this, I have dedicated the past 10 years to testing digital interventions to prevent deaths and injury related to excessive alcohol consumption.
"This controlled lab study shows that our phones can be useful to identify 'signatures' of functional impairments related to alcohol… We have powerful sensors we carry around with us wherever we go. We need to learn how to use them to best serve public health.”