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This study investigated the effect of receiving prior exposure to alcohol and the laboratory environment on the stress-reducing effects of alcohol. Sixteen heavy drinkers were matched on a measure of risk for alcoholism and assigned to 1 of 2 groups. During Days 1 and 2, the alcohol group drank alcohol (0.5 g/kg) and the placebo group drank a placebo in a distinct laboratory environment while measures of heart rate were obtained. During Day 3, both groups received a placebo in an effort to discern whether the groups differed in their response to alcohol cues. During Day 4, both groups received alcohol followed by a stressful task. The groups differed in neither their response to alcohol cues nor their initial response to alcohol. However, the alcohol group did demonstrate a reduced heart rate response during the stress phase. These results suggest that the stress-reducing effects of alcohol may reflect the influence of experiential as well as pharmacological factors related to alcohol consumption.