Alcohol "Reduces Anxiety But Not Fear"

By Chrisanne Grise 07/31/12

Booze may quell your first-date anxiety, but it won't reduce your existential fears—according to a new study.

Alcohol: For non-emergency use only.
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Does drinking really quell fear, as its reputation would have us believe? Maybe not. While booze may calm your nerves in certain situations, such as a first date, it may not be of any help at all in the event of an apocalypse, a health scare, or the shower scene in Psycho. Psychologists at the University of Wisconsin recently discovered that getting drunk reduces anxiety but not fear, suggesting that these two emotions are neurologically distinct. Researchers in the study boozed up their young-adult participants with 100-proof vodka mixed with juice, and then induced a series of shocks—both predictable, and unpredictable. When the subjects were unaware of when the shock was coming, they felt anxious over the uncertainty. However, when they were certain they would soon be in pain, they expressed fear. The results showed that alcohol did reduce their anxiety when the shocks were unpredictable, but it did not reduce their fear when the shocks were inevitable. This may explain why people are apt to reach for a drink in times of uncertainty, but are less likely to whip out a flask in emergency situations. However, Emma Childs, coauthor of another recent study on alcohol and stress at the University of Chicago, says that alcohol and stress actually "feed" each other—and that booze "may actually make a person's response to stress worse, and prolong recovery from a stressor." So perhaps, during moments of fear or anxiety, it is better to turn to an alternative form of stress reduction, such as bath salts—the kind you put in a hot bath, of course.

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Chrisanne Grise is a multimedia journalist specializing in health/fitness, lifestyle, travel, bridal, and music. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Parents, FitnessMagazine, Fisher Price, Bridal Guide, Scholastic's Choices,,, and more. She is the Senior Editor at The New York Times Upfront. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.