Stress on its own could lead to excessive drinking in women, not men, study says

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A new study, published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, suggested that women, who are at increased risk for alcoholic related health problems, are more likely to drink in excess because of stress alone than men.

The study consisted of 105 female participants and 105 male participants. Led by Dr. Julie Patock-Peckman, assistant research professor at Arizona State University, a team of researchers observed how much alcohol participants consumed when exposed to stressful and non-stressful situations in a simulated bar.

Subjects were split into randomized groups where some experienced stressful situations and others experiences non-stressful situations. Within their groups, half of the participants received alcoholic beverages that were equivalent to three drinks, and the other half received non-alcoholic beverages. After their first drinks, for 90 minutes, all participants had unrestricted access to a bar. 

The objective of the experiment was to determine whether stress, the first drink, or both, cause people to drink heavily.

Results showed that men who were both exposed to stress and had the alcoholic drink were more likely to drink heavily than the men who received the non-alcoholic beverage. In contrast, whether their first drink was the placebo or alcohol, women drank in excess when exposed to stress.

Researchers concluded to drink heavily, the women in the study only needed to be exposed to stress, whereas the men needed an initial drink in addition to a stressful situation.

The study suggests that men and women have different behaviors surrounding alcohol and may offer insight on how alcoholism should be treated differently in men and women.