246 heavy drinking adults (67% men) aged 21–82 reported daily stress levels and alcohol consumption over 180 days using Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Baseline daily hassles were examined as an alternative measure of stress. Generalized estimating equations (GEEs) were conducted to test the stress–drinking association accounting for alcohol dependency at baseline and sex and stressor type as moderators.
IVR daily stress predicted increased alcohol consumption the following day, whereas baseline level of daily hassles did not. Examining the opposite direction of effects, IVR ratings of daily alcohol consumption predicted decreased next-day stress. Stress predicted higher alcohol consumption the next day for men but there was no significant association for women. For both sexes, drinking predicted decreased stress the next day, but this effect was stronger for women.
This study generally supported the drinking to cope and self-medication hypotheses, with findings that increased stress led to increased drinking. The time-varying relation between stress and alcohol appears to be sex- and measure-specific, however. Therefore, interventions targeted at stress management found to be effective for one sex should not be presumed to be applicable to the other.
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