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Stress alone can drive women to drink excessively – but not men – according to a new study from the US.

The report, published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviours found that men who experienced the same levels of stress were only triggered to drink more once they had already started consuming alcohol.

The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism funded the study, alongside the Burton Family Foundation.

How was the research carried out?

The study took place in a simulated bar, which was set up at a research laboratory and included bar stools, a bartender and other patrons.

A total of 210 people participated (105 men and 105 women), with half given alcoholic drinks – equivalent to three cocktails – and the other half non-alcoholic drinks.

They were then randomised into different groups with some being placed into stressful situations, after which all were given unrestricted access to the bar for 90 minutes.

What was the result?

While all participants drank more after being exposed to stress, men who received an alcoholic drink before being exposed to stress went on to drink more than the men who were given a placebo. 

With the women in the study, regardless of whether they were first given an alcoholic drink, experiencing stress led to heavy drinking.

The team measured alcohol consumption using breath alcohol tests, as well as looking at the total number of drinks consumed. 

Julie Patock-Peckham, assistant research professor at Arizona State University and lead author on the study, said: “Some people can intend to have one or two alcoholic beverages and stop drinking, but other people just keep going.

“This impaired control over drinking is one of the earliest indicators of alcohol use disorders, and we know stress contributes to both impaired control over drinking and dysregulated drinking.

“That women just needed the stress, but men needed the push of already having alcohol on board shows how important this type of research is.”

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