A study conducted in a virtual reality bar setting assessed the effects of exposure to painful heat on alcohol consumption. The results showed that the men shortened the intervals between sips of the alcoholic beverage, but did not drink more per sip. They drank faster. On the other hand, women were not affected. The study has been published in Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology.
Chronic pain is a problem experienced by about 20% of people in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that chronic pain issues cause $560 billion in health care and lost productivity costs annually.
Previous studies have indicated that experimental induction of pain increases craving for alcohol and intention. Also, 73% of individuals seeking treatment for alcohol use disorder reported that they experienced moderate to severe pain within the past month. Approximately 25% of people support self-management of pain with alcohol.
On the other hand, alcohol consumption has been shown to have the effect of increasing pain threshold and decreasing pain intensity. Unfortunately, research models indicate that pain and drug use, including alcohol consumption, form a positive feedback loop in which both conditions worsen over time.
“There is strong evidence that pain contributes to dangerous alcohol use for many people, including large epidemiological studies in which many people with pain report using alcohol for pain relief and experimental studies that show That pain can increase people’s motivation to use alcohol,” he says, an associate professor and associate director of the Center for Pain and Behavioral Health Research at the University of Florida.
Our goal in this study was to determine whether pain would affect not only the motivation to drink, but also how people consumed alcohol. This is an important distinction because the way someone drinks alcohol (for example, taking a shot versus slurping a beer) can alter the risks associated with drinking.”
“We expected that experiencing pain would cause participants to drink faster, and that this effect would be stronger in men and people with certain personality traits, such as a tendency to act impulsively to relieve stress (also known as ‘negative urgency’). We conducted the study using a reality tape program. The new virtual, called INTACT VR, helps ensure all participants experience the same environment while drinking.”
Participants were 20 adults, all required to be current drinkers, that is, to have drunk at least one alcoholic drink per month over the past six months, between the ages of 21 and 55. They were in good physical health, had no major disorders, had no history of drug or alcohol dependence, were not pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or were breastfeeding.
Before the trial began, participants completed a screening set with questions about demographics and ratings of typical alcohol use, alcohol use disorder symptoms, pain attitudes, and expectations about the pain-reducing effects of alcohol and impulsivity. They also completed ratings of depression and anxiety. In addition, they completed a pregnancy test, a urine drug, and a basic alcohol breath test.
After the test, the participants were given a headset and goggles and immersed themselves in a virtual reality bar environment. They were asked to drink a 12-ounce bottle of beer or hard apple juice (5% alcohol content) at their own pace. During the session, a device was attached to the right calf that could cause localized pain using heat of varying intensity.
The researchers used two experimental conditions. In one condition, the participant’s calf was heated to 38 °C. This was uncomfortably warm, but not painful. In the other condition, the participant’s calf was heated to 44 °C. All participants went through both conditions, but in random order. One session lasted 15 minutes.
The results showed that the men significantly reduced the time between sips of their drink (beer or black cider) when exposed to painful heat compared to when the heat was unpleasant. The experimental condition did not affect sip volume, that is, the amount of beer/black cider they drank in each sip.
Surprisingly, the experimental condition did not change the drinking behavior of the women. The effect of the painful heat state is also stronger, the researchers noted, “in individuals with higher levels of greater negative urgency, but the opposite effect of pain destruction was found.”
“In my opinion, the most important takeaway from this study is that pain may not only increase a person’s motivation to drink alcohol, but also the rate at which they drink,” Boissoneau told PsyPost. “This seems to be especially true of men and people with greater negative urgency. This, in turn, may lead to an increased risk of alcohol-related consequences, including accidents or injuries, social and legal problems, health issues, and the development of an alcohol use disorder.” Unfortunately, over Although alcohol use may relieve some of the pain for the time being, it can make the pain worse over time.”
The study sheds light on the links between drinking behavior and pain. However, it should be noted that the study sample was small and selected. In addition, the study did not cause serious pain, the pain was only sharp and suffered for a very short time. Results in people with serious, long-term pain may not be the same.
“Although we had enough sample to test our main hypotheses, larger studies are needed to understand what characteristics may make individuals more likely to use alcohol to self-manage their pain,” Boissoneau said. “There is also a need to develop treatments or interventions that help break the link between pain and alcohol use in order to reduce the risks of both chronic pain and alcohol use disorder.”
“Any readers concerned about the alcohol abuse or intake of a friend or family member who lives in the United States should check out the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Alcohol Therapy Navigator (https://alcoholtreatment.niaaa.nih.gov/). I would also encourage them to consult a doctor if they feel the pain is contributing to the problem to help determine alternative pain treatment strategies. In the same vein, clinicians and other healthcare providers who work with people who are in pain or who have an alcohol use disorder should be aware that these conditions are often co-morbid.”
studying, “Pain and alcohol consumption in virtual realityWritten by Christina Gilmore, Shelby Place, Nicholas J. Bush, Daria Vitus, Ryan W. Carpenter, Michael Robinson, and Jeff Boissoneau.