How do you study the effects of alcohol? You get students drunk and watch what they do.
That's the idea behind Arizona State University professor Will Corbin's Behavioral Alcohol Research for Clinical Development laboratory, where research assistants are the bartenders and intoxicated students could hold the answers to treating alcohol disorders.
"The biggest thing I get is: 'You've gotta be kidding me, you have a bar, and you give people alcohol as part of your research?'" Corbin told the Arizona Republic.
According to the Republic, Corbin's "bar lab" features low lighting, padded chairs, Top 40 music and bottles along the walls with vodka, whiskey and tequila labels. Prescreened applicants between the ages of 21 and 30 are served the same mixture of 7UP, lime juice, cranberry juice and vodka in amounts according to their body weight.
Three drinks later, once they blow a 0.08 percent blood alcohol level on a Breathalyzer — legally drunk in Arizona — the work begins: Researchers might test students' memories, response times, willingness to take risks or, as the Republic reported, the way they play slot machine games (place larger bets and lose money faster, researchers found).
Participants are paid $60 for a night's work, which lasts from about 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. When they're finished, assistants give them food and let them watch TV while they sober up, and send them home in cabs.
The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides much of Corbin's funding. He and his research team are also examining the extent to which genes contribute to alcohol dependency risk, or whether certain environmental factors such as stress or poverty could increase the effects of those genes.
"What's exciting about where we are now is we're starting to put those pieces together," Corbin said.