Stress and Alcohol: It’s Complicated

By Dirk Hanson 07/18/11

Alcohol can change the way the body deals with stress—and not for the better.

Drinking might just make it worse.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

When people are stressed, they drink more—or that’s the conventional wisdom, at least. But researchers at the University of Chicago have demonstrated that it’s a two-way street: "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," says study author Emma Childs. “Stress can also change how alcohol makes a person feel: it can reduce the pleasant effects of alcohol or increase craving for more alcohol." Results will be published in the October 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]