Anxiety, Anxiety Sensitivity, and Perceived Stress as Predictors of Recent Drinking, Alcohol Craving, and Social Stress Response in Heavy Drinkers

Mary E. McCaul, Heidi E. Hutton, Mary Ann C. Stephens, Xiaoqiang Xu, Gary S. Wand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Background: Stress and anxiety are widely considered to be causally related to alcohol craving and consumption, as well as development and maintenance of alcohol use disorder (AUD). However, numerous preclinical and human studies examining effects of stress or anxiety on alcohol use and alcohol-related problems have been equivocal. This study examined relationships between scores on self-report anxiety, anxiety sensitivity, and stress measures and frequency and intensity of recent drinking, alcohol craving during early withdrawal, as well as laboratory measures of alcohol craving and stress reactivity among heavy drinkers with AUD. Methods: Media-recruited, heavy drinkers with AUD (N = 87) were assessed for recent alcohol consumption. Anxiety and stress levels were characterized using paper-and-pencil measures, including the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI), the Anxiety Sensitivity Index-3 (ASI-3), and the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). Eligible subjects (N = 30) underwent alcohol abstinence on the Clinical Research Unit; twice daily measures of alcohol craving were collected. On day 4, subjects participated in the Trier Social Stress Test; measures of cortisol and alcohol craving were collected. Results: In multivariate analyses, higher BAI scores were associated with lower drinking frequency and reduced drinks/drinking day; in contrast, higher ASI-3 scores were associated with higher drinking frequency. BAI anxiety symptom and ASI-3 scores also were positively related to Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test total scores and AUD symptom and problem subscale measures. Higher BAI and ASI-3 scores but not PSS scores were related to greater self-reported alcohol craving during early alcohol abstinence. Finally, BAI scores were positively related to laboratory stress-induced cortisol and alcohol craving. In contrast, the PSS showed no relationship with most measures of alcohol craving or stress reactivity. Conclusions: Overall, clinically oriented measures of anxiety compared with perceived stress were more strongly associated with a variety of alcohol-related measures in current heavy drinkers with AUD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)836-845
Number of pages10
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2017


  • Alcohol Craving
  • Alcohol Use Disorder
  • Anxiety Sensitivity
  • Cortisol
  • Trier Social Stress Test

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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