Stress, in itself, can lead to excessive alcohol consumption

A new study has shown that stress alone can lead to excessive alcohol consumption in women.

Men who experienced the same stress only drank to excess when they had already started drinking.

Although rates of alcohol abuse are higher among men than women, women are catching up. Women are also at greater risk than men of developing alcohol-related problems.

Participants consumed alcoholic beverages in a simulated bar while experiencing stressful and non-stressful situations. Stress caused women, but not men, to drink more than expected, a finding that demonstrates the importance of studying gender differences in alcohol consumption. The study was published in Psychology of addictive behavior.

“Some people may intend to drink an alcoholic drink or two and stop drinking, but others just keep going. This impaired control of alcohol consumption is one of the first indicators of alcohol use disorders, and we know that stress contributes to both impaired control of alcohol consumption and to deregulated consumption. The role of stress in the impaired control of alcohol consumption is under-studied, particularly in women, ”said Julie Patock-Peckham, assistant research professor at ASU and lead author of the study.

The study took place in a research lab designed to simulate a bar, complete with a bartender, bar stools, and lively conversations. The participants included 105 women and 105 men. They were randomly assigned to different groups, some experiencing a stressful situation and others a non-stressful situation. Then, half of the participants received one alcoholic drink equivalent to three cocktails, and the other half received three non-alcoholic drinks. After that, all participants had unlimited access to alcoholic drinks from the bar for 90 minutes.

“We know that genes and the environment play a role in problematic alcohol use. We can’t do anything about genes, but we can do something about the environment. Stress and impaired alcohol consumption control are closely related, and because stress is something we can handle, we tested whether stressors cause deregulated alcohol use, ”said Patock-Peckham, who runs the Social Addictions Impulse Lab at ASU.

The experimental setup allowed the research team to determine whether stress, the initial drink, or a combination of the two caused the amount of alcohol the participants consumed. The team measured alcohol consumption by the total number of drinks consumed and by using the alcohol content in the breath (BP).

Exposure to stress led to binge drinking in all participants. The men who received a first drink of alcohol and experienced stress drank more than the men who received the placebo.

Whether the first drink was alcoholic or not didn’t matter to women: stress led to binge drinking.

“The fact that women just need the stress but men need the push to already have alcohol on board shows how important this type of research is,” said Patock-Peckham. “The results of alcohol consumption are not the same for men and women, and we cannot continue to use models that have been developed in men to help women. “

The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Burton Family Foundation. In addition to Patock-Peckham, the research team included William Corbin, professor of psychology at ASU; Heather Smyth and Arian Rouf, graduate students at ASU; Jessica Canning of the University of Washington; and J. Williams of RTI International.

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