Pleasure Predicts Alcoholism
Is it wrong to head to the local bar with a group of colleagues and have several drinks? It seems to be a great time to blow off some steam. Increasingly, more young professionals are finding that the after-work cocktail scene is the norm. But what are the consequences? According to a study from the University of Chicago, the answer might depend on how much you like alcohol.
A group of researchers led by Dr. Andrea King discovered that young drinkers who experience greater pleasure from binge drinking are prone to developing alcoholism. The six-year study involved 104 binge drinkers who were in their twenties at the start of the research and in their early thirties by the end of the study. Those who found alcohol more stimulating (liking it, wanting more of it) were more likely to develop alcohol problems.
“Heavy drinkers who felt alcohol’s stimulant and pleasurable effects at the highest levels in their 20s were the ones with the riskiest drinking profiles in the future and most likely to go on and have alcohol problems in their 30s,” King reported.
The Fate of Binge Drinkers
The research focused on binge drinkers, or those who consume large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time (four drinks for women and five drinks for men). This potentially labels a lot of young professionals as binge drinkers when they attend their after-work happy hours or weekend social events.
“We knew that at age 25, there were binge drinkers who were sensitive to alcohol’s more positive effects,” King said in a press release. “We just didn’t know what was going to happen to them. Now we show that they’re the ones more likely to go on to experience more alcohol problems.”
The study adds to previous findings about tolerance and predisposition to addiction. In this case, tolerance for alcohol was not noted as a significant factor in predicting alcoholism. Participants were given placebo drinks, low doses of alcohol, and then high doses of alcohol in the initial sessions. They were tested again several times over the six-year period. Researchers administered performance and memory tests and measured levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). Participants did not rate sedation as a highly motivating factor for drinking.
Over the study period, researchers also found that some of the participants stopped their binge-drinking behaviors. Light drinkers were not tested over the entire course of the research if they showed no symptoms of addiction. Some of the participants who were heavy drinkers in their twenties had stopped binge drinking. This was mostly attributed to these participants reporting fewer positive effects from alcohol. As King noted, “participants reporting fewer positive effects of alcohol were more likely to mature out of binge drinking as they aged.”
In sharp contrast, heavy drinkers who liked alcohol continued to drink heavily and had numerous addiction symptoms. By the time the participants were in their early thirties, the drinkers with the highest risk for alcoholism reported the greatest stimulation from alcohol.
The findings of the study have led King and her team to conduct further research on preventive measures for the higher risk groups. In the meantime, there are plenty of individuals who are curious and worried about their tendencies toward alcoholism, and this research may be helpful.
How Much Do You Like the Effects of Alcohol?
So what does this research mean for people who drink socially after work? While more young professionals fall into the category of binge drinkers, it may be important to assess individuals’ reactions to the stimulating effects of alcohol. If you like it, if you want to drink more of it, then this could be an important warning sign of addiction.
“Those who drink heavily might want to pay more attention to their response to alcohol for important warning signs,” said King. “If you have sensitivity to the positive effects of alcohol, it might be better to moderate your use earlier than later.”