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Women and Men React Differently to Stress

New research which should come as a surprise to few of us suggests that men and women react differently to stress. When women are stressed-out, they get depressed or anxious. When men are stressed-out, they drink:

As part of a larger study, the researchers exposed 54 healthy adult social drinkers (27 women, 27 men) to three types of imagery scripts — stressful, alcohol-related, and neutral/relaxing — in separate sessions, on separate days and in random order. Chaplin and her colleagues then assessed participants’ subjective emotions, behavioral/bodily responses, cardiovascular arousal as indicated by heart rate and blood pressure, and self-reported alcohol craving.

“After listening to the stressful story, women reported more sadness and anxiety than men,” said Chaplin, “as well as greater behavioral arousal. But, for the men … emotional arousal was linked to increases in alcohol craving. In other words, when men are upset, they are more likely to want alcohol.”

This is a very subjective piece of research, with the researchers themselves rating the 54 participants (meaning there is more latitude for researcher bias), with apparently no objective measures used. However, their findings appear to be in line with other research in this area. The researchers in the current study look like they are trying to shed more light on the gender differences in dealing with stress.

A British Journal of Addiction study published in December (Veenstra et. al., 2007) that examined 3,200 Dutch men and women’s drinking patterns found a similar relationship:

A positive relationship was found between the occurrence of negative life-events and alcohol use in subjects scoring high on emotion coping, and a negative one among subjects scoring low on emotion coping.

Cognitive coping, action coping, actual support, social contacts and gender did not modify the relationship between life-events and alcohol use.

In other words, people who had an emotion-focused coping style (passive, indulgent and resigned) drank more when faced with a negative life event, than those who didn’t involve their emotions in their coping style. The type of non-emotional coping style was also somewhat important:

However, having a more cognitive coping style or more social contacts was associated with a lower level of alcohol use, whereas having an action coping style and receiving more actual social support was associated with a higher drinking level.

Bummed out but want to take action with your friends? Well, having a pint at the bar seems like a good way to let off some steam.

Guess which coping style men are more likely to have versus women?

Read the full article: Stress Triggers Depression in Women, Alcohol Craving in Men

Women and Men React Differently to Stress

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Women and Men React Differently to Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 12 May 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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