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We have always known that stress plays a role in alcohol use. Many people drink to quell the stress and worries -- to feel lighter.
But the relationship between stress and drinking is different in men and women.
A new study has discovered that stress, in itself, can drive women to drink excessively, but not men. In the study, men who experienced the same stress level only drank more than they intended when they had already started drinking alcohol.
The difference in simple terms is this: stress alone doesn't drive men to excessive drinking, but it does so to women.
Knowing how one's sex affects their response to stress and alcohol abuse is vital to helping individuals battling the addiction. Unfortunately, how it affects women hasn't been studied before now, yet the same interventions are offered to both men and women. How effective would they be?
You see, not everyone has the same willpower. Some people start drinking with the intention of having one or two drinks, and they stop when they do. But others just keep going without control.
This dysfunctional control is one of the earliest signs of alcohol abuse disorder. That fact is known.
Also, "We know that stress contributes to both impaired control over drinking and dysregulated drinking," says Julie Patock-Peckam, lead author of the study. "The role of stress in impaired control over drinking is [unfortunately] understudied."
The study was conducted in a research lab simulated to look like a bar, having bar stools, bar-like conversations, and a bartender.
The participants included 105 men and 105 women of random backgrounds, with some experiencing stress and others not.
Firstly, half of the participants received alcoholic drinks (one per individual), and the other half got non-alcoholic beverages (three per individual). And then they were all allowed free access to all the alcoholic drinks for 1.5 hours.
The research shows that stress led to excessive drinking in all participants.
However, stressed men who first received an alcoholic drink drank more than those who first got non-alcoholics. For women experiencing stress, what kind of drink they got first didn't matter. The stress, in itself, led to excessive drinking.
That women only need to experience stress before giving in to alcohol abuse while men need to first have alcohol before going overboard shows how critical this research is in optimizing interventions for both genders.
Stress and Alcohol use affect women differently from men, and we cannot keep using interventions developed for men to treat women.
There are more men battling alcohol misuse than women, but women are at greater risk of developing alcohol-related problems.
For optimal results when helping these women, we need to develop models that address their peculiarities, and this research is a great starting point.