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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2011 Nov;218(1):19-28. doi: 10.1007/s00213-010-2163-6. Epub 2011 Jan 28.

An acute psychosocial stressor increases drinking in non-treatment-seeking alcoholics.

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  • 1Charleston Alcohol Research Center, Institute of Psychiatry, Medical University of South Carolina, 67 President Street, Charleston, SC 29425, USA. thomass@musc.edu



Although studies suggest that stress is an important reason for relapse in alcoholics, few controlled studies have been conducted to examine this assumption. Evidence of stress-potentiated drinking would substantiate this clinical observation and would contribute to the development of a model that would be valuable to alcohol treatment research.


The hypothesis was tested that an acute psychosocial stressor, the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), increases alcohol consumption in non-treatment-seeking alcoholics.


Seventy-nine alcohol-dependent participants (40 women) were randomly assigned to receive the TSST or a no-stress condition. Immediately afterward, all participants received an initial dose of their preferred alcoholic beverage to achieve a target blood alcohol concentration of 0.03 g/dl (to prime subsequent drinking in the laboratory). Participants then participated in a mock taste test of two glasses of beer. Primary dependent measures were whether s/he drank all of the beer available (yes/no) and total amount of beer consumed (milliliters).


Stressed participants were twice as likely as non-stressed participants to drink all of the beer available, a significant effect. Although the stressed group drank more milliliters than the non-stressed group, this effect failed to reach significance, likely due to ceiling effects. There were no significant stress group × gender effects on either outcome.


This study supports that stress-potentiated drinking is valid and can be modeled in a clinical laboratory setting.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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