Does alcohol help with stress or make it worse?

It’s a daily struggle to keep stress at bay. Those shoulders do tend to creep up on us through the course of the day, rising to somewhere around our ears by noon. To cope with the various and largely inevitable work-life conflicts we face daily, many of us find relief in a post-work glass of wine or beer.

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Woman drinking a glass of wine

Masterfile

It’s a daily struggle to keep stress at bay. Those shoulders do tend to creep up on us through the course of the day, rising to somewhere around our ears by noon. To cope with the various and largely inevitable work-life conflicts we face, many of us find relief in a post-work glass of wine or beer. 

The troubling contents of a new study (via TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow) into how alcohol affects the brain’s response to stress, however, may cause some regular tipplers to consider whether or not it would be wiser to leave the cork in the wine bottle and opt for a hot bath instead. 

Using lab mice, researchers from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine sought to understand how alcohol consumption affects the brain’s ability to deal with stress.

The researchers, possibly working for the feline population on the sly, gave these little mice quite a time.   First they dosed their furry captives with an excessive amount of alcohol for a month and then they exposed them to a stressor — an electric shock. 

The electric shock was accompanied by a sound. Eventually, the researchers stopped offering an electric shock and just played the sound. The thinking was that the mice would make the connection between the shock and the sound and react accordingly.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The pie-eyed mice who were exposed to the sound minus the shock still reacted as if they were getting a nasty zap. To put their reaction in layman’s terms, they kind of freaked out.

In contrast, mice that weren’t given alcohol during the experiment, showed more intellectual flexibility when they heard the sound on its own. These sober rodents were able to “unlearn” the connection between the shock and the sound and reacted to the changing conditions around them with greater ease. 

The study’s finding leads the researchers to conclude that chronic use of alcohol impairs the brain’s ability to deal with stress.

We’ll have to take their word for it; the drunk mice were passed out on tiny sofas in the laboratory and weren’t able to comment on the experiment. 

Does a glass or two during the week help you relieve stress?

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