Stress Causes Descendents of Alcoholic Parents to Drink

Individuals with a family history of alcoholism are known to be genetically predisposed to the disorder themselves, but researchers at University of Gothenburg, Sweden have identified a possible variable that can increase their susceptibility to drinking. When stressed, children of alcoholic parents may be inclined to consume more alcohol as a way to help them cope with their emotions.

For their investigation, lead researcher Anna Söderpalm Gordh of the Sahlgrenska Academy and her colleagues sought to discover whether stress influences predisposed individuals’ likelihood to consume alcohol, and if stress alters their perception of alcohol’s effects. The researchers conducted a study involving 58 volunteers who were divided into two groups-those with a family history of alcoholism and those without a family history of alcoholism. All the volunteers were then randomly assigned to two different laboratory sessions, one of which involved the stressful task of publicly solving difficult mathematical problems while under a time constraint. After both laboratory sessions, the participants were permitted to consume up to six alcoholic drinks or a placebo, depending on which laboratory session they had participated in first, as way to measure their desire to consume alcohol when stressed.

In their findings, the researchers discovered that participants with a family history of alcoholism consumed more alcohol following a stressful situation than participants without a family history of the disorder. According to the researchers, the combination of stress and alcohol consumption may magnify the feelings of reward in individuals with a family history of alcoholism, leading them to choose to consume more alcohol than normal. Predisposed individuals’ propensity to consume excessive alcohol when stressed, the researchers caution, also causes a number of negative outcomes, such as the development of long-term alcohol dependency. Because the consumption of alcohol was also shown to lower stress levels in the participants with a family history of alcoholism, the researchers advise that predisposed individuals should seek alternate methods of relaxation, such as meditation or exercise, to help them manage stress in a healthy way.

Children of alcoholic parents are known to carry a 50% chance of acquiring a drinking problem themselves during their lifetime. However, Gordh’s study helps better explain why predisposed individuals experience a higher risk for alcoholism based on the link between stress and perception of alcohol. The new study has recently been published in the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behaviour.