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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.



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.

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