How does stress lead to risk of alcohol relapse?

Alcohol Res. 2012;34(4):432-40.


Empirical findings from human laboratory and brain-imaging studies are consistent with clinical observations and indicate that chronic alcohol-related dysfunction in emotional and stress responses plays a role in motivation to consume alcohol in people with alcohol use disorders. Recent findings on differences in stress responsivity in alcohol-dependent versus nondependent social drinkers demonstrate alterations in stress pathways that partially may explain the significant contribution of stress-related mechanisms on craving and relapse susceptibility. These findings have significant implications for clinical practice, including (1) the development of novel brain and stress biology-related measures of relapse risk that could serve as biomarkers to identify those most at risk of alcohol relapse during early recovery from alcoholism; and (2) the development of novel interventions that target stress-related effects on the motivation to drink alcohol and on relapse outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / physiopathology
  • Alcoholism / prevention & control
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Arousal
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / adverse effects
  • Ethanol / adverse effects
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Risk
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / psychology


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol