Research Brief: Stress, Gaming, and Alcohol Use

Jun 7, 2020

Examining the connection between the stress system response and decision making in heavy users of alcohol and online video games.

Rebecca Gilbertson, an associate professor of psychology, published "Stress System Response and Decision Making in Heavy Episodic Users of Alcohol and Online Video Games" in Substance Use & Misuse.


        • Comorbid heavy episodic use of alcohol and online video gaming is investigated.
        • Psychosocial stress causes advantageous decision making in problematic online video gamers.
        • Evidence of blunted affect following psychosocial stress is also reported.
        • Continued study of problematic online video gamers who also consume alcohol is suggested.


“Few empirical studies have addressed stress system response and subsequent decision making in problematic online video game players who also consume alcohol,” says Gilbertson. She randomly assigned participants to either a mental arithmetic stressor, or control condition. Following, decision making was assessed. 

Key Findings

Response to the stressor was varied, particularly in individuals reporting binge internet gaming (6 hours or more consecutive use in the last 30 days) who did not display the expected decline in positive affect in response to the stressor. 

Differences in decision making between heavy gaming participants in the stress condition, versus controls, were also noted.


Gilbertson concludes, “We’re particularly intrigued with the possibility of the negative mood induction contributing to a narrowing of attention and greater immersion (King, Delfabbro, & Griffiths, 2010) or engagement (Brockmyer et al., 2009) with the decision making task. 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.” 

List of Funders

Support was provided in part from the University of Minnesota Office of Vice President of Research, Research, Artistry & Scholarship Program #93489 (RJG, PI).

Coauthor and affiliates

Dustyn J. Leffa, and Nathan A. Youngba Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota-Duluth, Duluth, MN, USA; Department of Psychology, DePaul University,

Chicago, IL, USA