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Chronic drinking increases cortisol during intoxication and withdrawal

  • Cortisol, a "stress hormone," plays an important role in the regulation of emotion, cognition, reward, immune functioning, and energy utilization.
  • New research has found that long-term chronic drinking produces an increase in cortisol both during intoxication and withdrawal.
  • Cortisol appears to increase significantly during the progression from chronic intoxication to withdrawal..

Cortisol, known as a "stress hormone," plays an important role in the regulation of emotion, cognition, reward, immune functioning, and energy utilization. A study published in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has found that long-term chronic drinking produces an increase in cortisol both during intoxication and withdrawal.

"It has not been known whether the body adapts to the stress of drinking following daily heavy drinking in the non-laboratory setting, or whether cortisol levels continue to be elevated even after several weeks or months of drinking," said Bryon H. Adinoff, Distinguished Professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, medical director of the Substance Abuse Team at the Veterans Affairs North Texas Health Care System in Dallas, and first author of the study. "In this study, we show that even persons drinking for several months continue to show elevated levels of cortisol. In addition, levels of cortisol increase even further when the drinking stops. This increase occurs even before alcohol is gone from the body. The daily, heavy drinker may therefore have levels of cortisol two to three times the normal amount throughout the day and night."

Cortisol is the primary glucocorticoid in humans. Glucocorticoids are produced by the adrenal glands, two thumb-size organs that lie behind both kidneys. When a body's stress-response system is activated by stressors, usually unpredictable or fear- and/or anxiety-causing in
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14-Sep-2003


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