The impact of alcohol dependence and posttraumatic stress disorder on cold pressor task response

J Stud Alcohol. 2006 Sep;67(5):700-6. doi: 10.15288/jsa.2006.67.700.


Objective: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is commonly comorbid with alcohol-use disorders. Abnormalities in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis response are common in both disorders. The objective of this study was to investigate HPA axis reactivity to the cold pressor task (CPT) among individuals with alcohol dependence, PTSD, and comorbid alcohol dependence and PTSD.

Method: Participants were 119 individuals with alcohol dependence only (n = 31), comorbid alcohol dependence and PTSD (n = 28), PTSD without alcohol dependence (n = 30), and a control group (n = 30). Subjective response, adrenal corticotropic hormone (ACTH), and cortisol were measured before, immediately after, and for 120 minutes after each subject completed the CPT.

Results: There were significant group and gender differences found in the subjective and ACTH response, with significantly higher subjective stress ratings and decreased ACTH response in the alcohol-dependent, PTSD, and comorbid alcohol dependent-PTSD groups compared with the control group.

Conclusions: There were differences in the HPA axis and subjective response to the CPT between the control group and both the alcohol and PTSD groups. The HPA response in the comorbid alcohol-PTSD group was not significantly different than that of the alcohol-only or PTSD-only groups.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / drug therapy*
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Naltrexone / therapeutic use*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / blood
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology
  • Touch*


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Naltrexone
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone