Acute levels of stress have always been thought to be associated with drinking alcohol however new research has shown that acute levels of stress and alcohol can 'feed' each other to make people less able to cope.

Stress, often associated with drinking alcohol is affecting the 'cortisol' response - a hormone reaction designed to help the body respond to periods of stress.

"Anecdotal reports suggest that alcohol dampens the physiological or negative emotional effects of stress but this has been hard to demonstrate in the lab," said Emma Childs, research associate at The University of Chicago and corresponding author for the study.

Cortisol is actively repressed by alcohol, thinks Childs, who performed a test on individuals who had drunk the equivalent of two standard units of alcohol versus nothing.

"The public speaking task we used is standardized and used by many researchers," said Childs who used the test to trigger an emotional and physiological response to stress in 25 healthy individuals, once where they performed a stressful public speaking task and once with a non-stressful control task.

"It reliably produces significant stress reactions, including increases in heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol and feelings of tension."

The test triggered an effect where alcohol and stress combined to show significant impact on salivary cortisol, anxiety, desire for more drink, heart rate and blood pressure.

"The results demonstrated bi-directional relationships between alcohol and stress, alcohol can change the way that the body deals with stress: it can reduce the pleasant effects of alcohol or increase craving for more alcohol." Childs added.

One group of participants (n=11) received alcohol within one minute of completing the tasks, followed by the placebo 30 minutes later. The other group (n=14) received the placebo infusion first, followed by the alcohol.

"The increase in heart rate, the release of cortisol, and also the negative mood each reach a climax at different rates, therefore, ... effects, depend(ing) on how long after the stress a person drinks." she added.