Stress System Response and Decision Making in Heavy Episodic Users of Alcohol and Online Video Games (2019)

Subst Use Misuse. 2019 May 29:1-11. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2019.1618333.

Gilbertson RJ1, Leff DJ1, Young NA2.


Objective: Few empirical studies have addressed stress system response and subsequent decision making in problematic online video game players who also consume alcohol.

Method: Participants were randomly assigned to either receive a psychosocial stressor, including evaluated public speaking and mental arithmetic, or control condition. Salivary cortisol, cardiovascular and subjective responses were collected. Following, decision making was assessed using the Iowa Gambling Task.

Results: In this sample of moderate internet gamers (N = 71; 45 male, 16.9% meeting suggested DSM-5 criteria for internet gaming disorder), 53.52% met gender-specific cut-points for heavy episodic drinking. Overall, participants in the TSST condition demonstrated elevated systolic and diastolic blood pressure, self-reported anxiety, and negative affect (ps < .05). However, response to the TSST was varied, particularly in individuals reporting binge internet gaming (6 h or more consecutive use in the last 30 d) who did not display the expected decline in positive affect in response to the TSST (p = .02). Differences in greater advantageous decision making between heavy episodic internet gaming participants in the stress condition, versus those reading a travel magazine, were also noted. These differences were not significant in participants reporting an absence of heavy episodic gaming behavior.

Conclusions: These findings support the continued study of individuals who engage in problematic internet gaming behavior, particularly those who engage in heavy episodic use of alcohol.

KEYWORDS: Alcohol; cortisol; heavy episodic use; internet gaming disorder; stress system response

PMID: 31140346

DOI: 10.1080/10826084.2019.1618333