Drinking Alcohol May Prolong, Not Relieve,
FRIDAY, July 15 (HealthDay News) -- Although many people think
that having a cocktail will help them relax, the relationship
between stress and alcohol is a two-way street, researchers
Alcohol can change the way the body manages stress, the authors
of a new study pointed out. Meanwhile, stress can also reduce the
intoxicating effects of alcohol, causing individuals to drink more
to produce the same effect. As a result, turning to alcohol to
alleviate anxiety or tension may actually make some people feel
worse and prolong their stress, the findings indicate.
When faced with stress, a person has separate physiological and
emotional reactions that occur at different times after the
stressful event, the study's corresponding author Emma Childs, a
research associate at the University of Chicago, explained in a
university news release. "For example," she said, "the increase in
heart rate and blood pressure, the release of cortisol [a stress
hormone], and also the increased feelings of tension and negative
mood each reach a climax and dissipate at a different rate.
Therefore, drinking more alcohol might have different effects,
depending on how long after the stress a person drinks."
In conducting the study, which was released online in advance of
publication in the October print issue of
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, the researchers asked 25 healthy men to complete a stressful public speaking task known to increase heart rate, blood pressure and feelings of tension, as well as one non-stressful task for comparison.
Following the tasks, the men were given intravenous fluids
containing about the same amount of alcohol as two typical drinks.
Within one minute of completing the tasks, 11 of the men were given
the alcohol followed by an inactive placebo 30 minutes later. The
rest of the men received the placebo first, then the alcohol.
During this time, the researchers measured the men's levels of
anxiety, stimulation and desire for more alcohol, as well as their
heart rate, blood pressure and salivary cortisol.
"The results demonstrated bi-directional relationships between alcohol and stress," concluded Childs. "Alcohol can change the way that the body deals with stress: it can decrease the hormone cortisol, which the body releases to respond to stress, and it can prolong the feelings of tension produced by the stress. Stress can also change how alcohol makes a person feel: it can reduce the pleasant effects of alcohol or increase craving for more alcohol."
The study authors added that using alcohol to help manage stress
might actually make matters worse. "Stress may also alter the way
that alcohol makes us feel in a way that increases the likelihood
of drinking more alcohol," said Childs. "Stress responses are
beneficial in that they help us to react to adverse events. By
altering the way that our bodies deal with stress, we may be
increasing the risks of developing stress-related diseases, not the
least of which is alcohol addiction."
The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information
risk factors for alcohol abuse.
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