Response of the HPA-axis to alcohol and stress as a function of alcohol dependence and family history of alcoholism.Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2007 Apr; 32(3):293-305.P
Dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis has been observed in chronic alcoholics and in non-alcoholic sons of alcoholic parents, while genetic and environmental factors, such as stress, may play a significant role in the development of alcoholism. The present study was designed to investigate the response of the HPA-axis to alcohol and stress as a function of family history of alcoholism and chronic alcohol abuse. We determined changes in plasma adrenal corticotrophin (ACTH) and cortisol concentrations in response to a placebo or an alcohol (0.50g ethanol/kg body wt) drink and to a stress task performed 30 min following ingestion of either the placebo or the alcohol drink in social and heavy drinkers with [high risk (HR)] and without [low risk (LR)] a family history of alcoholism. Thus, four groups of healthy male individuals, low risk with no alcohol-dependence diagnosis (LRNAD), high risk with no alcohol-dependence diagnosis (HRNAD), low-risk alcohol dependent (LRAD) and high-risk alcohol dependent (HRAD), participated in the four experimental sessions given in random order. Basal plasma ACTH levels of LRNAD participants were higher from those of the other three groups of participants. Basal plasma cortisol levels of HRAD participants were higher from those of LRNAD and HRNAD but not of LRAD participants. The stress-induced increases of plasma ACTH and cortisol concentrations were more pronounced in LRNAD participants. The alcohol drink prevented the stress-induced increases in plasma ACTH and cortisol of all groups of participants. The self-ratings of anxiety were attenuated in LRNAD and LRAD participants in the alcohol only session and in HRNAD and HRAD participants in the alcohol plus stress session. In conclusion, there are differences in the activity of the HPA-axis as a function of family history and alcohol dependence, while the effect of an alcohol drink on the self-rating of anxiety may be influenced by both family history and stress.