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 GoodTherapy.org.
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