Stress and alcohol 'feed' each other

July 15, 2011

Acute stress is thought to precipitate alcohol drinking. Yet the ways that acute stress can increase alcohol consumption are unclear. A new study investigated whether different phases of response to an acute stressor can alter the subjective effects of alcohol. Findings indicate bi-directional relationships between alcohol and stress.

Results will be published in the October 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

"Anecdotal reports suggest that alcohol dampens the physiological or negative emotional effects of stress but this has been hard to demonstrate in the lab," said Emma Childs, research associate at The University of Chicago and corresponding author for the study. "Another way that stress could increase drinking is by altering alcohol's effects. For example, if stress reduces the intoxicating effects of alcohol, individuals may drink more alcohol to produce the same effect.

Childs explained that the body's reaction to stress involves separate physiological and emotional consequences that occur at different times after the stress. "For example," she said, "the increase in heart rate and blood pressure, the release of cortisol, and also the increased feelings of tension and negative mood each reach a climax and dissipate at a different rate. Therefore, drinking more alcohol might have different effects, depending on how long after the stress a person drinks."

Study subjects comprised 25 healthy men who participated in two sessions, one where they performed a stressful public speaking task and one with a non-stressful control task.

"The public speaking task we used is standardized and used by many researchers," said Childs. "It reliably produces significant stress reactions, including increases in heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol and feelings of tension. Moreover, because it is so widely used, the results can be compared directly to those from other studies. The public speaking task is also ecologically valid in that it represents a stressful event that many people experience outside the laboratory."

After each task, participants received intravenously administered infusions containing alcohol (the equivalent of 2 standard drinks) and placebo. One group of participants (n=11) received alcohol within one minute of completing the tasks, followed by the placebo 30 minutes later. The other group (n=14) received the placebo infusion first, followed by the alcohol. Researchers measured subjective effects such as anxiety, stimulation, and desire for more alcohol, as well as physiological measures such as heart rate, blood pressure, and salivary cortisol before and at repeated intervals after the tasks and infusions.

"The results demonstrated bi-directional relationships between alcohol and stress," said Childs. "Alcohol can change the way that the body deals with stress: it can decrease the hormone cortisol which the body releases to respond to stress, and it can prolong the feelings of tension produced by the stress. Stress can also change how alcohol makes a person feel: it can reduce the pleasant effects of alcohol or increase craving for more alcohol."

Childs added that it is often hard to separate alcohol's effects upon stress reactions from its effects on the perception of how stressful an experience is. "However, in our study we administered alcohol after the stressful experience, then examined the effects of alcohol on stress responses so ruling out any effect of alcohol upon perception of the stress. We showed that alcohol decreases the hormonal response to the stress, but also extends the negative subjective experience of the event. We also showed that stress decreased the pleasant effects of the alcohol. These findings illustrate a complex bi-directional interactions between stress and alcohol."

In summary, said Childs, using alcohol to cope with stress may actually make a person's response to stress worse, and prolong recovery from a stressor. "Stress may also alter the way that alcohol makes us feel in a way that increases the likelihood of drinking more alcohol," she said. "Stress responses are beneficial in that they help us to react to adverse events. By altering the way that our bodies deal with stress, we may be increasing the risks of developing stress-related diseases, not the least of which is alcohol addiction."
-end-
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER) is the official journal of the Research Society on Alcoholism and the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism. Co-authors of the ACER paper, "Bidirectional Interactions Between Acute Psychosocial Stress and Acute Intravenous Alcohol in Healthy Men," were: Sean O'Connor of the Department of Psychiatry and Biomedical Engineering at Indiana University School of Medicine; and Harriet de Wit of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at The University of Chicago. The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, The University of Chicago, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This release is supported by the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network at http://www.ATTCnetwork.org.

Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

Related Blood Pressure Articles from Brightsurf:

Children who take steroids at increased risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, blood clots
Children who take oral steroids to treat asthma or autoimmune diseases have an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and blood clots, according to Rutgers researchers.

High blood pressure treatment linked to less risk for drop in blood pressure upon standing
Treatment to lower blood pressure did not increase and may decrease the risk of extreme drops in blood pressure upon standing from a sitting position.

Changes in blood pressure control over 2 decades among US adults with high blood pressure
National survey data were used to examine how blood pressure control changed overall among U.S. adults with high blood pressure between 1999-2000 and 2017-2018 and by age, race, insurance type and access to health care.

Transient increase in blood pressure promotes some blood vessel growth
Blood vessels are the body's transportation system, carrying oxygen and nutrients to cells and whisking away waste.

Effect of reducing blood pressure medications on blood pressure control in older adults
Whether the amount of blood pressure medications taken by older adults could be reduced safely and without a significant change in short-term blood pressure control was the objective of this randomized clinical trial that included 534 adults 80 and older.

Brain blood flow sensor discovery could aid treatments for high blood pressure & dementia
A study led by researchers at UCL has discovered the mechanism that allows the brain to monitor its own blood supply, a finding in rats which may help to find new treatments for human conditions including hypertension (high blood pressure) and dementia.

Here's something that will raise your blood pressure
The apelin receptor (APJ) has been presumed to play an important role in the contraction of blood vessels involved in blood pressure regulation.

New strategy for treating high blood pressure
The key to treating blood pressure might lie in people who are 'resistant' to developing high blood pressure even when they eat high salt diets, shows new research published today in Experimental Physiology.

Arm cuff blood pressure measurements may fall short for predicting heart disease risk in some people with resistant high blood pressure
A measurement of central blood pressure in people with difficult-to-treat high blood pressure could help reduce risk of heart disease better than traditional arm cuff readings for some patients, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association's Hypertension 2019 Scientific Sessions.

Heating pads may lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure when lying down
In people with supine hypertension due to autonomic failure, a condition that increases blood pressure when lying down, overnight heat therapy significantly decreased systolic blood pressure compared to a placebo.

Read More: Blood Pressure News and Blood Pressure Current Events
Brightsurf.com 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 Amazon.com.