• Alcohol Dependence;
  • Female;
  • Blood Pressure;
  • Stress;
  • Cardiovascular Reactivity

Background: Male alcoholic patients with acute withdrawal hypertension have shown exaggerated cardiovascular reactivity to stress after 3 to 4 weeks of abstinence, although resting blood pressures (BP) had returned to normal. Studies of this nature, however, have not been extended to women.

Methods: In this study, 32 alcohol-dependent women, abstinent for 4 weeks, were compared with 16 healthy controls on cardiovascular hemodynamics during rest and in response to 2 moderately aversive stressors: isometric handgrip and a speech task. The alcoholics were placed according to withdrawal BP into transitory hypertensive (tHT; n= 16; BP ≥140/90 mm Hg) and normotensive (NT; n= 16; BP <140/90 mm Hg) subgroups.

Results: During stress testing, the transitory hypertensive women had increased diastolic BP (p < 0.01), a higher peripheral resistance index (p < 0.05), and a reduced cardiac efficiency index (p < 0.03) relative to the normotensive and control subjects.

Conclusions: This cardiovascular pattern suggests that both cardiac and vascular functions were altered adversely in the transitory hypertensives. In contrast to men examined in previous studies, the transitory hypertensive women had no exaggeration of BP reactivity, but instead showed sustained alterations of resting cardiovascular function in relation to chronic alcohol consumption. Although the pattern of cardiovascular dysregulation seems to be different in female alcoholics than in males, it is consistent with studies showing that cardiovascular effects in women are more severe than in men and emerge at a lower threshold level of chronic drinking.