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  • 1 University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
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Background and aims

Problematic Internet use and excessive alcohol consumption have been associated with a host of maladaptive outcomes. Further, low (blunted) cardiovascular and stress hormone (e.g. cortisol) reactions to acute psychological stress are a feature of individuals with a range of adverse health and behavioural characteristics, including dependencies such as tobacco and alcohol addiction. The present study extended this research by examining whether behavioural dependencies, namely problematic Internet use, excessive alcohol consumption, and their comorbidity would also be associated with blunted stress reactivity

Methods

A large sample of university students (N = 2313) were screened using Internet and alcohol dependency questionnaires to select four groups for laboratory testing: comorbid Internet and alcohol dependence (N = 17), Internet dependence (N = 17), alcohol dependence (N = 28), and non-dependent controls (N = 26). Cardiovascular activity and salivary cortisol were measured at rest and in response to a psychological stress protocol comprising of mental arithmetic and public speaking tasks.

Results

Neither problematic Internet behaviour nor excessive alcohol consumption, either individually or in combination, were associated with blunted cardiovascular or cortisol stress reactions.

Discussion

It is possible that problematic Internet behaviour and excessive alcohol consumption in a student population were not related to physiological reactivity as they may not reflect ingrained addictions but rather an impulse control disorder and binging tendency.

Conclusions

The present results serve to indicate some of the limits of the developing hypothesis that blunted stress reactivity is a peripheral marker of the central motivational dysregulation in the brain underpinning a wide range of health and behavioural problems.

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