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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2005 Feb;29(2):185-95.

Stress enhancement of craving during sobriety: a risk for relapse.

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  • 1Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA.


This report of the proceedings of a symposium presented at the 2004 Research Society on Alcoholism Meeting provides evidence linking stress during sobriety to craving that increases the risk for relapse. The initial presentation by Rajita Sinha summarized clinical evidence for the hypothesis that there is an increased sensitivity to stress-induced craving in alcoholics. During early abstinence, alcoholics who were confronted with stressful circumstances showed increased susceptibility for relapse. George Breese presented data demonstrating that stress could substitute for repeated withdrawals from chronic ethanol to induce anxiety-like behavior. This persistent adaptive change induced by multiple withdrawals allowed stress to induce an anxiety-like response that was absent in animals that were not previously exposed to chronic ethanol. Subsequently, Amanda Roberts reviewed evidence that increased drinking induced by stress was dependent on corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). In addition, rats that were stressed during protracted abstinence exhibited anxiety-like behavior that was also dependent on CRF. Christopher Dayas indicated that stress increases the reinstatement of an alcohol-related cue. Moreover, this effect was enhanced by previous alcohol dependence. These interactive effects between stress and alcohol-related environmental stimuli depended on concurrent activation of endogenous opioid and CRF systems. A.D. Lê covered information that indicated that stress facilitated reinstatement to alcohol responding and summarized the influence of multiple deprivations on this interaction. David Overstreet provided evidence that restraint stress during repeated alcohol deprivations increases voluntary drinking in alcohol-preferring (P) rats that results in withdrawal-induced anxiety that is not observed in the absence of stress. Testing of drugs on the stress-induced voluntary drinking implicated serotonin and CRF involvement in the sensitized response. Collectively, the presentations provided convincing support for an involvement of stress in the cause of relapse and continuing alcohol abuse and suggested novel pharmacological approaches for treating relapse induced by stress.

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