, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 271-278

Counteracting depressant effects of alcohol by psychological stress

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Interaction between effects of acute alcohol intoxication and psychological stress was examined in 8 male and 8 female students. Alcohol was given as whisky, 2 ml/kg body wt to males and 1.7 ml/kg body wt to females. Psychological stress was induced by applying electric shocks of a moderate intensity to two fingers of one of the subject's hands. Performance in reaction-time tasks representing different levels of complexity, self-estimates of wakefulness and mood, measurements of catecholamine excretion and of heart rate, were used as indices of the effects caused by alcohol and shock, singly and in combination. Among these variables, only performance was selectively sensitive to the different experimental treatments. Thus, shocks and alcohol had opposite effects, shocks decreasing and alcohol increasing reaction time. When the subjects were simultaneously exposed to both influences, the impairment produced by alcohol was significantly reduced by shock at all levels of task complexity. No sex differences could be detected.

Stay in Stockholm sponsored by fellowships from the European Training Program in Brain and Behaviour Research and from the International Federation of University Women.
The investigation was supported by grants from the Swedish Medical Research Council (Project No. 997) and the Swedish Council for Social Science Research. We wish to thank Dr. A.-L. Myrsten for valuable suggestions in designing the experiment.