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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1991 Jun;15(3):438-59.

Stress and alcohol interaction: an update of human research.

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Center of Alcohol Studies, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ 08855-0969.


The literature on alcohol and stress in human subjects carried out since 1981 is reviewed. The review covers selected aspects of the interaction of alcohol and stress. (1) Most of the review focuses on the role of stress on alcohol ingestion. Retrospective research based on data from the Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicated an increase in alcohol consumption with anxiety in certain groups of, as yet not well characterized, individuals. For example, although still insufficiently documented, stress does not appear to play a significant role in alcohol ingestion by women and the elderly. By contrast, stress does appear to play a role in the control of alcohol ingestion by adolescents. Prospective studies employing questionnaire-interview formats generally support an effect of stress on alcohol ingestion. However, studies employing male college aged social drinkers did not find a correlation between levels of stress and ingestion of alcohol. Alcoholics also differ in the reasons for drinking alcohol, but generally ingest alcohol to lessen anxiety/stress. It is clear that the Tension Reduction Hypothesis as originally postulated is no longer adequate. Many new models based on an interaction of alcohol and stress have been proposed to explain the control of alcohol consumption. Considering the multidimensionality of factors that appear to contribute to the control of alcohol ingestion, it is unlikely that a single model could possibly be relevant to alcohol ingestion under all conditions. More likely different models may be relevant to alcohol consumption under specific conditions, or for specific populations. (2) Alcohol has been reported to decrease anxiety in agoraphobics. The self-medication by agoraphobics may contribute significantly to their alcohol abuse. (3) Alcohol has also been reported to decrease tremor of the hands in stressed subjects as well as in patients with essential tremor. (4) Although a number of studies have employed electrodermal activity in studies aimed at the interaction of alcohol and stress, the results have been rather inconsistent. (5) The controversy on the purported beneficial effect of alcohol on the cardiovascular system persists. A number of studies have shown a J- or U-shaped relationship between alcohol ingestion and incidence of coronary heart disease. Alcohol may also influence stress-induced changes in blood pressure. Although a number of studies have demonstrated lower blood pressure in individuals ingesting less than two drinks per day compared with abstainers or heavy alcohol imbibers, the evidence is not conclusive. (6) It is not clear whether the interaction of alcohol and stress involves alterations in plasma catecholamines.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS).

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