The Association of Allostasis with Alcohol Use Disorders: A Case-Control Study

Carlos Portillo, University of Texas at El Paso


Background. Allostatic load (AL) is defined as the wear and tear on the body and the brain that can predispose one to disease due to the effects of the prolonged and/or constant activation of biological systems over time. The primary aim of the current study was to determine the relationship between an index of AL with having been diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder. Methods. The current study is a secondary data analysis of case control data obtained from a sample of men with alcohol use disorder (AUD; n = 48) who were abstinent for a period of two to four weeks and a sample of healthy participants (n = 17) with no previous substance use issues to examine potential mean score differences in AL. AUD was determined by meeting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Version IV (DSM-IV) criteria for alcohol dependence. AL load was measured using a composite index of biological measures such as cortisol (neuroendocrine system); interluken-6 (IL-6), fibrinogen, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFa), and C-reactive protein (CRP, immune system); glucose, insulin, and leptin (metabolic system); pulse, systolic blood pressure readings, and diastolic blood pressure readings (cardiovascular and circulatory system); and body mass index (BMI, anthropometric system). It was hypothesized that (H1) higher AL mean scores would be observed in men with an AUD compared to the healthy control group. Higher AL scores were also hypothesized to be associated with increased amounts of (H2) baseline lifetime drinks per drinking day and (H3) drinks per drinking day at 3-month follow-up. Lastly, it was hypothesized that (H4) higher AL scores would be positively correlated with a psychological cumulative stress score derived from stress measures including the Childhood Adversity Interview, the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, the UCLA Life Stress Interview, and two questions from the PTSD section of the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for the DSM-IV. Results. Overall, there were no mean score differences in AL between the two groups (t(63) = .50, p = .618), nor was the AL index positively associated with the two drinking outcomes (lifetime drinks per drinking day [F(1, 44) = .20, p = .65, R2 = .005]; drinks per drinking day at 3-month follow-up [F(1, 39) = .92, p = .345, R2 = .024]) or psychological cumulative stress score index (r(62) = -.008, p = .951). However, post-hoc analyses indicated statistically significant group mean differences between the two groups (t(61) = 3.87, p < .001) on the psychological cumulative stress score such that the healthy control participants had lower scores compared to their counterparts. Conclusion. Overall, the hypotheses were not supported. Based on the results, it may be reasonable to infer that AL in the context of AUD or drinking patterns may not be applicable. Further, the method in which stress is captured warrants attention, given the differences observed in the psychological cumulative stress index but not the AL index.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology|Biochemistry|Physiological psychology

Recommended Citation

Portillo, Carlos, "The Association of Allostasis with Alcohol Use Disorders: A Case-Control Study" (2021). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI28539816.