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Gender in the mix

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May 19, 2008|Melissa Healy | Times Staff Writer

For THOSE who have poured themselves a stiff cocktail at the end of an awful day -- or a spat, traffic ticket or office crisis -- it's official: You are likely trying to distract yourself from negative emotions. And if this is how you tend to respond, you're more likely to be a man than a woman. A Yale University study finds that under stress, women report more sadness and anxiety than men, but men report more craving for alcohol.

In a study to be published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 27 women and 27 men -- social drinkers -- heard stories from their lives that were stressful, relaxing or alcohol-related. Then they had their heart rate and blood pressure measured, and emotional state and craving for alcohol gauged. When men's emotions were aroused, up went their blood pressure and evidence of emotional discomfort, such as fidgeting and distressed looks. And up went their professed desire for alcohol. For women, sadness and anxiety rose after hearing stressful stories. But compared with men, their increased alcohol craving was slight.

Is nature at work or nurture, society's expectation that women, not men, may show emotion? Study author Tara M. Chaplin of Yale isn't sure, but says that men's response to stress, plus the fact that men tend to drink more than women, puts them at greater risk for alcohol-use disorders.

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melissa.healy@latimes.com

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