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Alcohol use and great expectations.

Alcohol use and great expectations

Some people think of alcohol as a kind of magical elixir that replaces unpleasant feelings with a confidence-enhancing "high' and an array of heightened social and physical pleasures. Mix this expectation with alcohol's "two-faced' physical effects--it acts as a stimulant at low doses and a depressant at high doses--and the stage is set for a vicious cycle leading to alcohol addiction, says psychologist G. Alan Marlatt of the University of Washington in Seattle.

"Any short-term relief [from drinking] is quickly dispelled by the delayed negative effects which in turn give rise to another attempt to gain relief,' he says. "The expected solution exacerbates the initial problem.'

Several studies have shown that low doses of alcohol pump up heart rate, skin conductance and motor and perceptual performance, whereas higher doses depress these measures of physiological arousal. The initial arousal and energy boost provided by alcohol may feed into expectations that its effects will only be for the better, suggests Marlatt. A number of factors influence expectations about alcohol's effects, including cultural beliefs, personal experience with the substance, the setting in which it is consumed and physiological sensitivity and tolerance. Furthermore, explains Marlatt in the Summer ALCOHOL HEALTH & RESEARCH WORLD, recent research indicates that heavy drinkers and alcoholics are far more likely to expect alcohol to transform their emotional state in all sorts of positive ways, while light drinkers have limited expectations of how alcohol will affect them.

Marlatt proposes that moderate drinking serves to enhance or maintain a neutral or positive emotional state. One example, he says, is someone at a wedding reception whose good mood is heightened by drinking champagne, even if overindulgence results in fatigue or slight discomfort later on. Addictive use, however, may be an attempt to transform or cope with a negative emotional state. Consider a heavy-drinking businessman, says Marlatt. He may drink before meeting clients to alleviate hangover effects from the past night's drinking and to fortify his confidence. But because of his tolerance for the drug, he needs several drinks before its stimulating effects kick in. Several hours later he feels tired, restless and unable to concentrate. More alcohol is then sought to provide temporary relief, illustrating the vicious cycle of his alcohol craving.

Research on addiction-prone expectations about alcohol's effects may lead to improved alcohol education and prevention programs, notes Marlatt.
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Title Annotation:physical effect of alcohol
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 3, 1987
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