Alcohol and Stress
Why do people drink when stressed, or do they?
A common assumption that many people have is that people use alcohol to deal with stress. Although this may be "common knowledge," researchers have not been able to find much support for this notion. In other words, people as a whole do not seem to drink as a way to deal with stress. Some studies have shown, however, that men who believe that drinking leads to positive outcomes or feelings of carelessness tend to use alcohol as a stress reliever. Unfortunately, these studies asked people to reflect back on past behavior, which is not a very good way to investigate this issue. Researchers from the University of Connecticut Health Center recently conducted a study to investigate this issue using a more appropriate approach.
What was the research about?
Eighty-eight community residents participated in the study after responding to newspaper advertisements. They completed an initial questionnaire measuring alcohol expectancies, the outcomes they expected after drinking alcohol. Each day for sixty days, they completed a brief questionnaire about the stress they experienced, their desire to drink, and their alcohol consumption.
Consistent with some of the other studies on this issue, men who believed that drinking leads to positive outcomes or feelings of carelessness wanted to and actually did drink more alcohol on more stressful days than they did on less stressful days. Additionally, men who believed that drinking leads to impairment showed the opposite pattern, wanting to and actually drinking less alcohol on more stressful days than on less stressful days. Alcohol use among women was not related to stress.
Why should it matter to me?
This study provides strong evidence for why some people drink in response to stress. Men who drink may want to think about whether their beliefs about the consequences of alcohol consumption are leading them to use alcohol as an unhealthy, shortsighted approach to stress relief.Source: Armeli, S., Carney, M. A., Tennen, H., Afflect, G., & O'Neil, T. P. (2000). Stress and alcohol use: A daily process examination of the stressor-vulnerability model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 979-994.