, 218:131 | Cite as

Effects of stress on alcohol drinking: a review of animal studies

  • Howard C. BeckerEmail author
  • Marcelo F. Lopez
  • Tamara L. Doremus-Fitzwater



While stress is often proposed to play a significant role in influencing alcohol consumption, the relationship between stress and alcohol is complex and poorly understood. Over several decades, stress effects on alcohol drinking have been studied using a variety of animal models and experimental procedures, yet this large body of literature has generally produced equivocal results.


This paper reviews results from animal studies in which alcohol consumption is evaluated under conditions of acute/sub-chronic stress exposure or models of chronic stress exposure. Evidence also is presented indicating that chronic intermittent alcohol exposure serves as a stressor that consequently influences drinking.


The effects of various acute/sub-chronic stress procedures on alcohol consumption have generally been mixed, but most study outcomes suggest either no effect or decreased alcohol consumption. In contrast, most studies indicate that chronic stress, especially when administered early in development, results in elevated drinking later in adulthood. Chronic alcohol exposure constitutes a potent stressor itself, and models of chronic intermittent alcohol exposure reliably produce escalation of voluntary alcohol consumption.


A complex and dynamic interplay among a wide array of genetic, biological, and environmental factors govern stress responses, regulation of alcohol drinking, and the circumstances in which stress modulates alcohol consumption. Suggestions for future directions and new approaches are presented that may aid in developing more sensitive and valid animal models that not only better mimic the clinical situation, but also provide greater understanding of mechanisms that underlie the complexity of stress effects on alcohol drinking.


Stress Alcohol drinking Animal models 



This work was supported by the NIH/NIAAA-sponsored Integrative Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism (INIAstress) Consortium (grant U01 AA014095).

Conflicts of interest

The authors do not have any conflicts of interest to report in connection with this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Howard C. Becker
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Marcelo F. Lopez
    • 1
  • Tamara L. Doremus-Fitzwater
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesCharleston Alcohol Research Center, Center for Drug and Alcohol ProgramsCharlestonUSA
  2. 2.Department of NeurosciencesMedical University of South CarolinaCharlestonUSA
  3. 3.RHJ Department of Veterans Affairs Medical CenterCharlestonUSA

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