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Home > Research Articles > Stress Increases Sedative Effects of Alcohol, Researchers Say

Reuters Health

Saturday, June 22, 2002

Stress Increases Sedative Effects of Alcohol, Researchers Say

New research shows that stress enhances alcohol's sedative effects, contrary to the belief that alcohol reduces stress, Reuters reported June 17.

In studying the relationship between stress and alcohol consumption, researchers at the University of Chicago, Illinois, put 11 healthy male volunteers through a stress-inducing math test. The participants were between the ages of 21 and 31 and had no current or prior drinking problem.

The men were given orange juice containing Everclear, which is 95-percent pure grain alcohol, when a peak in the stress hormone cortisol was evident in their saliva. The men also were presented with questions about their mood state.

Their responses were compared to those of another group who went through the same test but drank only orange juice. Results also were compared to responses participants gave on another day when they drank either beverage and were not stressed.

Lead author Dr. Anna H. V. Soderpalm and co-author Dr. Harriet de Wit determined that stressed men who received the alcoholic drink showed "increased ratings of feeling down and inactive" after drinking the alcohol.

"After consuming about four drinks within 15 minutes, these subjects may already have reached a maximally desirable drug effect," the researchers said. "This result may be related to the idea that people drink to relax, although in our study alcohol did not change the mood state, but rather the mood state changed the effects of alcohol."

The researchers concluded that stress could cause some people to drink more alcohol. "Stress appears to increase the sedative effects of alcohol, and decreases its stimulative effects," said Soderpalm.

The study's findings are published in the June 2002 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.