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Drinking alcohol prolongs, not relieves, stress

The findings indicate that using alcohol to help manage stress might actually make matters worse.

Drinking alcohol prolongs, not relieves, stress

Although many people think that having a cocktail will help them relax, the relationship between stress and alcohol is a two-way street.

Acute stress is thought to precipitate alcohol drinking. Yet the ways that acute stress can increase alcohol consumption are unclear. Reports suggest that alcohol dampens the physiological or negative emotional effects of stress but this has.

Researchers in America investigated whether different phases of response to an acute stressor can alter the subjective effects of alcohol. They 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, participants received intravenously administered infusions containing alcohol (the equivalent of 2 standard drinks) and placebo. One group of participants received alcohol within one minute of completing the tasks, followed by the placebo 30 minutes later. The other group received the placebo infusion first, followed by the alcohol. 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 before and at repeated intervals after the tasks and infusions.

The results demonstrated a complex bi-directional interaction between alcohol and stress. Alcohol decreased the hormonal response to the stress, but also extended the negative subjective experience of the event while stress decreased the pleasant effects of the alcohol.

The findings indicate 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. As a result, turning to alcohol to alleviate anxiety or tension may actually make some people feel worse and prolong their stress. 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.

In summary, using alcohol to cope with stress may actually make a person's response to stress worse, and prolong recovery from a stressor.
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