Why Do Men Drink Up To Four Times More When Stressed? It Could Be A Lack Of Self-Control

By Rhonda J. Miller on December 22, 2013 10:49 AM EST

Men Drink More Than Women When Stressed
After doing stressful tasks, men turn to alcohol more than women, according to a new study by researchers in the Netherlands. (Photo: demi/Creative Commons / Rhonda J. Miller)

Having a drink — or two or three — might take the edge off a stressful day in class or at work, but men are more likely than women to choose alcohol to wind down. The reason men respond to stress with increased consumption of alcohol is a failure of self-control, according to a new study, "Facing Temptation in the Bar: Counteracting the Effects of Self-Control Failure on Young Adults' Ad Lib Alcohol Intake," reported in the Dec. 18 issue of the journal Addiction.  

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A laboratory was turned into a bar-like environment by researchers Roy Otten, Roel Hermans, and colleagues at the Behavioural Science Institute at Radbourd University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. In the first of two experiments with 106 undergraduates, one group of participants was asked to do a cognitively demanding task, while those in a control group did a simpler task. During a break, the participants could sit down at a bar and help themselves to beer, wine, or a non-alcoholic drink. After the demanding tasks, the men drank more alcohol than the women.

In the second part of the experiment, the 108 participants were all men. The experiment was similar to the first, but the men were asked to keep a record of how much they drank. Those who became aware of how much they drank tended to drink less.

"Our control system is responsible for regulating impulsive behavioral tendencies," said Otten in Addiction. "More than females, males are likely to drink when there is an opportunity; there is a stronger natural and automatic tendency to drink.

"When self-control fails, the impulse to drink will no longer be regulated or inhibited, which in turn instigates drinking," said Otten. "The fact that increasing self-awareness counteracts this effect is hopeful and warrants the need for studies that introduce more creative ways of contributing to increased awareness of alcohol intake in drinking contexts."

The scientists theorize that blood glucose provides the necessary energy to maintain self-control under stress, but once the stressed-out men's glucose resources were depleted, they could no longer maintain their self-control and drank more, according to Science Magazine. Men drank four times more alcohol than the women after performing the stressful task, Science reported.

Researchers found that when the male volunteers kept track of how many drinks they had, however, they cut their alcohol consumption by half,according to Science. As for the women in the experiment, those who were stressed-out drank even less alcohol than the women who performed the easy task. Researchers speculate that women are naturally less tempted by alcohol than men, providing them with a built-in deterrent.

Women may not maintain less of an interest in drinking all their lives. Age may have an impact, with women over 65 drinking more often than their younger counterparts, according to a survey in Britain done by the Office of National Statistics, according to a Dec. 17 article in the Daily Mail. Fourteen percent of women 65 and over drink alcohol at least five days a week, compared to two percent of women aged 16 to 24 in the British study, the Daily Mail reported.

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