Democrats and Republicans will perhaps have at least one thing in common tonight: A craving for a drink as the election finally comes to a close.
Since this race was one for the books, with 52 percent of people reporting increased anxiety, stress might be an explanation for why people may reach for a Mazel tov cocktail or two tonight. At least, that’s one interpretation of a recent study published in the journal Neuron.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that stressed out rats voluntarily drink more alcohol than counterparts who hadn’t experienced a stressful event. The study authors also found that stress actually changed rat brain circuitry, reducing the amount of dopamine, the pleasure neurochemical, that was released in response to alcohol.
We have long known that alcohol consumption affects how much dopamine is released in the reward center of the brain, which might explain why those who have an alcohol use disorder eventually find it harder to feel good after drinking. But this new finding might help explain why that might be: According to the study, stress altered the neurons in the reward centers of the rats’ brains, thus prompting the animals to reach for more alcohol.
To reach their conclusion, scientists inflicted stress on one group of rats by placing them in a tube only slightly larger than their own bodies for one hour. Fifteen hours later, the researchers measured how much alcohol-laden water these rats drank and compared it to a control group of rats who did not experience a stressful event. Stressed rodents drank significantly more alcohol water than the control group ― and continued to drink more for several weeks after the incident, the researchers wrote.
It’s important to reiterate that the study was conducted on rats, which means the results can’t be totally applied to people. More research is needed to make a definitive conclusion in humans.
That being said, the research does provide a little food for thought. If the study sounds all too familiar ― particularly today ― remember there are other ways to dial down the anxiety now and in the future. Meditation flash mobs are here to help you on election day and you can always take a time out in the yoga position of your choice.