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Behav Pharmacol. 2014 Sep;25(5-6):503-17. doi: 10.1097/FBP.0000000000000067.

Effects of stress and dietary tryptophan enhancement on craving for alcohol in binge and non-binge heavy drinkers.

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School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, UK.


Stress is known to play an important role in alcohol abuse, whereas binge drinking may increase individuals' susceptibility to the development of alcohol dependence. We set out to investigate whether binge drinkers (BDs) or non-BDs (NBDs) are at a greater risk of an increase in their desire for alcohol following experimental stress induction (modified Trier Social Stress Test; Experiment 1) and to explore the biological mechanisms underlying such an effect (Experiment 2). Preclinical evidence suggests that serotonin may mediate stress-induced reinstatement of alcohol intake. We therefore tested whether dietary tryptophan (TRP) enhancement would modulate stress-induced desire for alcohol and whether it would affect the two populations (BD/NBD) differently. In Experiment 1 (14 NBDs, 10 BDs; mean weekly alcohol intake 50.64 U), stress induction selectively increased strong desire for alcohol compared with the nonstressful condition in BDs. Throughout the experiment, BDs reported greater negative reinforcement type of craving than NBDs, but also a higher expectancy of alcohol-induced negative effects. In Experiment 2, 41 participants (22 NBDs, 19 BDs; mean alcohol intake 38.81 U) were given either the TRP-rich (TRP+; 9 BDs, 11 NBD) or the control (CTR; 10 BD, 11 NBD) diet before undergoing stress induction. In BDs, the TRP+ diet prevented the stress-induced increase in strong desire that was observed in individuals receiving the CTR diet. In NBDs, the TRP+ diet appeared to facilitate an increase in strong desire. These findings suggest that BDs may indeed be at a greater risk than NBDs of an increase in their craving for alcohol when stressed. Furthermore, whereas enhancement of 5-hydroxytryptamine function may moderate the impact of stress on craving in BDs, it seems to facilitate stress-induced craving in NBDs, suggesting that the serotonergic system may be differentially involved depending on individual binge drinking status.

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