Substance Abuse May Curb Body's Stress Reactions

February 23, 1999

Teenage substance abusers display a characteristic pattern of heart rate and other physiological changes in response to loud noise, offering clues to how and why some young people develop substance use disorders, according to new research.

Those teenagers may use alcohol, tobacco, or other substances, in part, as a way to blunt their bodies' reactions to stressful events in their lives, Jeanette Taylor, William G. Iacono, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, report in the March issue of Psychophysiology, published today.

"Substance dependence is a complex phenomenon that cannot be fully understood through examination of single domains, such as the environment," Taylor says. "Our investigation lends further support to the growing literature that suggests that examination of physiological systems will provide important pieces in the puzzle of substance dependence."

While 175 young men aged 16 to 18 listened through headphones for a 90 decibel blast of white noise, Taylor and colleagues recorded a variety of physiological measures, including heart rate and skin conductance, an indicator of arousal. Sometimes the noise blasts would be signaled in advance on a computer screen; at other times they were not predictable.

When the noise blast was predictable, some of the young men responded with lower skin conductance readings than when the noise blast was unpredictable. These "good modulators," as the researchers called them, were least likely to be dependent on alcohol, tobacco, or other substances.

Other subjects had the opposite response: when the noise was predictable, their skin conductance readings were higher than when the noise was unpredictable. These "poor modulators" were the most likely to report symptoms of substance dependence.

Good modulators also showed increased heart rates in anticipation of the noise blast, but poor modulators showed no heart rate increase preceding the noise.

The findings are consistent with previous research suggesting that alcohol and substance abuse develop, in part, from defects in individuals' "inhibitory control system," leaving them prone to impulsive behavior. Good modulators in the experiment were able to take advantage of the signal preceding the noise blast and remain relatively unaroused, as reflected in their skin conductance readings. The poor modulators, in contrast, became more aroused in the face of the predictable noise blast.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and an Eva O. Miller Fellowship.
Psychophysiology is the official peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Psychophysiological Research. For information about the journal, contact its editor, Gregory A. Miller, PhD, 217-333-6312.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health For information about the Center, call Richard Hebert, 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

Related Alcohol Articles from Brightsurf:

Alcohol use changed right after COVID-19 lockdown
One in four adults reported a change in alcohol use almost immediately after stay-at-home orders were issued: 14% reported drinking more alcohol and reported higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who did not drink and those whose use stayed the same.

Changes in hospitalizations for alcohol use disorder in US
Changes over nearly two decades in the rate of hospitalizations and in-hospital deaths from alcohol use disorder in the US were examined in this study.

Associations of alcohol consumption, alcohol-induced passing out with risk of dementia
The risk of future dementia associated with overall alcohol consumption and alcohol-induced loss of consciousness in a population of current drinkers was examined in this observational study with more than 131,000 adults.

New alcohol genes uncovered
Do you have what is known as problematic alcohol use?

Does estrogen influence alcohol use disorder?
A new study from researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that high estrogen levels may make alcohol more rewarding to female mice.

Sobering new data on drinking and driving: 15% of US alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities involve alcohol under the legal limit
A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, published by Elsevier, found that motor vehicle crashes involving drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) below the legal limit of 0.08 percent accounted for 15% of alcohol-involved crash deaths in the United States.

Alcohol-induced deaths in US
National vital statistics data from 2000 to 2016 were used to examine how rates of alcohol-induced deaths (defined as those deaths due to alcohol consumption that could be avoided if alcohol weren't involved) have changed in the US and to compare the results by demographic groups including sex, race/ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status and geographic location.

Cuts in alcohol duty linked to 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England
Government cuts to alcohol taxes have had dramatic consequences for public health, including nearly 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England since 2012, according to new research from the University of Sheffield's School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR).

Integrated stepped alcohol treatment for people in HIV care improves both HIV & alcohol outcomes
Increasing the intensity of treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) over time improves alcohol-related outcomes among people with HIV, according to new clinical research supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The Lancet:Targets to reduce harmful alcohol use are likely to be missed as global alcohol intake increases
Increasing rates of alcohol use suggest that the world is not on track to achieve targets against harmful alcohol use, according to a study of 189 countries' alcohol intake between 1990-2017 and estimated intake up to 2030, published in The Lancet.

Read More: Alcohol News and Alcohol Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to