New Study Examines the Effects of Stress on Alcohol Consumption

Emma Childs, Ph.D., research associate at the University of Chicago outlined the reason for a new study which investigated the relationship between stress and alcohol consumption. She said, “Anecdotal reports suggest that alcohol dampens the physiological or negative emotional effects of stress, but this has been hard to demonstrate in the lab.” She added that stress may also decrease the effects of alcohol, resulting in the need to consume more. Childs said that the body reacts both emotionally and physiologically to stress. “For example, 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.” She surmised, “Therefore, drinking more alcohol might have different effects, depending on how long after the stress a person drinks.”

In the study, 25 healthy men were required to participate in two separate tasks. One public speaking task was designed to elicit stress responses, and the other neutral task was designed to be non-stressful. “The public speaking task we used is standardized and used by many researchers,” added Childs, noting that it elicits predictable stress responses making it useful for cross study comparisons. One group of the participants was given alcohol intravenously after the tasks, while the other was given the alcohol after a thirty minute waiting period. The findings revealed a direct link between stress and increased alcohol consumption. “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,” said Childs. She concluded that consuming alcohol to alleviate stress may backfire, actually exacerbating the stress response and stalling recovery from the stressful event. She also cautioned, “Stress may also alter the way that alcohol makes us feel in a way that increases the likelihood of drinking more alcohol.”

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • sherry


    July 21st, 2011 at 1:54 PM

    so it is a trade off.,feed your body alcohol to get over stress and stress demands more alcohol! hmm,makes sense to not go in for alcohol on the first place doesn’t it? but some people will never understand.!

  • DJ


    July 22nd, 2011 at 6:20 AM

    Alcohol or a glass of wine always mellows me out. What is wrong with that?



    July 22nd, 2011 at 6:57 AM

    No doubt there are thousands of people who drink to sink their stress and sadness.But has it actually done that?No!It causes more problems.Maybe it gets the person’s mind off it but it doesn’t help fix things.Look on the bright side and do something that will actually fix your problems than turning to alcohol!

  • Adrian Kennedy

    Adrian Kennedy

    July 26th, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    All alcohol does is deaden the stressful feelings for a while. When you sober up you’re back to square one. It’s a waste of money. Some jobs can be stressful. However drinking doesn’t make them any less so when you go back to it the next day.

    I have a friend who works in IT support and he always tells me stories of working with computer owners that really shouldn’t be allowed to own one because their questions are so dim-witted. He often ends the tales with “This is why I drink” but he only says that in jest. I hope.

  • T.C.


    July 26th, 2011 at 9:00 PM

    @Adrian Kennedy-Stress at the workplace is one of the reasons I look forward to a cold beer at the end of the day. I am moderate in how much I drink though. I don’t want to end up like some drunken loser who can’t keep a job because of his drinking habit. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a drink-if you know when to stop.

  • Jude Knowles

    Jude Knowles

    July 26th, 2011 at 9:16 PM

    There are no ways we can easily get rid of stress that doesn’t involve some kind of risk. If you exercise, you could hurt yourself physically. If you take meds or drink, you could become addicted if that’s your sole crutch.

    The stress levels we’re expected to handle have been getting out of hand in the last ten or twenty years. We’re dealing with too many people, too many tasks, and too many challenges all at once for little pay or reward. We wear so many hats it’s impossible not to be stressed.

  • P.L.


    July 29th, 2011 at 8:14 PM

    @jude knowles “There are no ways we can easily get rid of stress that don’t involve some kind of risk.” Yes there is: you could meditate.

    You’re not going to pull a hamstring meditating and it can be more successful for some that any drink or meds. Look within rather than without for solutions to stress. There’s also numerous coping mechanisms you can learn easily.

  • Kat Singer

    Kat Singer

    July 29th, 2011 at 9:43 PM

    A small amount of alcohol to calm your nerves a little bit won’t do any harm whatsoever to you. It’s when you start turning to the bottle every time something annoys you there is a problem and those reasons to do so become smaller and smaller. If you rely on alcohol for anything, you are an alcoholic-plain and simple.

  • H. Braswell

    H. Braswell

    July 30th, 2011 at 2:02 AM

    @Kat Singer: How else are you going to deal with stress that’s well beyond your limits? I tried to tell my boss that my job was far too stressful and demanding for what my position required, and that I needed more people in my department to reduce the workload.

    What did he do? Fire me for being incompetent and not living up to his expectations. You think I’m going to handle that with a mug of hot chocolate? LOL.

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