A Meta-Analytic Review of Laboratory Studies Testing the Alcohol Stress Response Dampening Hypothesis
Decades of research have tested the hypothesis that alcohol consumption buffers against the effects of stress. Despite this large body of literature, the evidence from carefully controlled laboratory studies in which alcohol is administered and negative affect is measured in response to a stressor is mixed. The goal of the current meta-analysis was to quantitatively summarize laboratory studies of alcohol's stress response dampening effects and test theoretical and methodological factors that explain variation in effect sizes across studies. A literature search identified 52 studies that administered alcohol and measured negative affect, as defined by self-report and/or psychophysiological response to a stressor. The results showed post-stressor negative affect was significantly lower in the alcohol condition compared to the control conditions (placebo and control), d=-.38, 95% CI [-.56, -.21], k = 130, m = 50. For changes in pre-to-post stressor affect, there was evidence of a small, but not significant, difference between the conditions such that negative affect increased slightly less in the alcohol condition, d = .49, 95% CI [.22, .77], k = 54, m = 27, compared to the control conditions, d = .60, 95% CI [.39, .80], k = 65, m = 26. Moderator analyses did not yield significant results but highlighted some areas for further research. Rather than providing definitive results on the topic of stress response dampening, this meta-analysis indicates several opportunities for refinement of method and theory to continue to improve the science in this area of research.