Gender Differences in Acute Alcohol Effects on Self-Regulation of Arousal in Response to Emotional and Alcohol-Related Picture Cues

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Abstract

Basic mechanisms through which men and women self-regulate arousal have received little attention in human experimental addiction research, although stress-response-dampening and craving theories suggest an important role of emotional arousal in motivating alcohol use. This study examined gender differences in the effects of acute alcohol intoxication on psychophysiological and self-reported arousal in response to emotionally negative, positive, and neutral, and alcohol-related, picture cues. Thirty-six social drinkers (16 women) were randomly assigned to an alcohol, placebo, or control beverage group and exposed to picture cues every 10 s (0.1 Hz presentation frequency). Psychophysiological arousal was assessed via a 0.1-Hz heart rate variability (HRV) index. A statistically significant beverage group-by-gender interaction effect on psychophysiological, but not self-reported, arousal was found. The 0.1-Hz HRV responses to picture cues were suppressed by alcohol only in men. This gender-specific suppression pattern did not differ significantly across picture cue types. There were no significant gender differences in the placebo or control group. Greater dampening of arousal by alcohol intoxication in men, compared with women, may contribute to men's greater tendency to use alcohol to cope with stress.

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