These two authors contributed equally to this work.
Characteristics of Heart Rate Variability in Alcohol-Dependent Subjects and Nondependent Chronic Alcohol Users
Article first published online: 11 OCT 2013
Copyright © 2013 by the Research Society on Alcoholism
Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Volume 38, Issue 1, pages 9–26, January 2014
How to Cite
Karpyak, V. M., Romanowicz, M., Schmidt, J. E., Lewis, K. A. and Bostwick, J. M. (2014), Characteristics of Heart Rate Variability in Alcohol-Dependent Subjects and Nondependent Chronic Alcohol Users. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 38: 9–26. doi: 10.1111/acer.12270
- Issue published online: 21 JAN 2014
- Article first published online: 11 OCT 2013
- Manuscript Accepted: 11 JUL 2013
- Manuscript Received: 24 JAN 2013
- Heart Rate Variability;
- Acute Alcohol Dependence
Heart rate variability (HRV) is an objective and sensitive measure of integrated physiological functioning reflective of heart rhythm responsivity to internal and external demands. Reduced HRV is associated with vulnerability to stress and deterioration of medical and/or psychiatric conditions, while increased HRV is associated with a favorable treatment response and recovery from various medical and/or psychiatric conditions. Our previous review found that acute alcohol consumption caused decreased parasympathetic and increased sympathetic HRV effects in both nonalcoholic and chronic alcohol users. This review investigates the effects of chronic alcohol consumption on HRV in alcohol-dependent subjects and nondependent users. MEDLINE, Scopus, and PubMed were searched for human experimental and clinical trials that measured the effects of chronic alcohol use on HRV. Only publications that included a description of their study designs and clearly stated methodologies for data collections, and outcome measures were reviewed. We have reviewed a total of 24 articles. In nondependent users, low dose (approximating the recommended daily amount of 1 standard drink in women and 2 in men) use is associated with increased HRV parameters compared to those who drink less frequently or abstain altogether. A further increase in consumption is associated with decreased HRV compared to both abstainers and more moderate drinkers. HRV changes during withdrawal generally follow the same negative direction but are more complex and less understood. In dependent subjects, an improvement in HRV was seen following abstinence but remained reduced compared to nonalcoholic controls. This review demonstrates that HRV changes associated with chronic use follow a J-shaped curve. It supports recommendations that limit daily alcohol intake to no more than 2 drinks for men and 1 drink for women. Future studies should investigate HRV as a biomarker of alcoholism development and treatment response as well as the physiological basis for alcohol effects on HRV.