Differences in pituitary-adrenal reactivity in Black and White men with and without alcohol use disorder

Julianne L. Price, Ian R. Frazier, Ben Lewis, Robrina Walker, Martin A. Javors, Sara Jo Nixon, Bryon Adinoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Treatment-seeking men with alcohol use disorder (AUD) classically exhibit a blunted hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis response to pharmacologic and behavioral provocations during the early phases of abstinence from alcohol. Independent of alcohol, a significant muting of HPA axis reactivity is also observed among racial minority (e.g. Black) individuals. The effect of AUD upon the altered HPA axis response of racial minority individuals has not been explored. The current work represents a secondary analysis of race and AUD status among a sample of men. Methods: Healthy male controls (17 White, 7 Black) and four-to six-week abstinent men with AUD (49 White, 13 Black) were administered a psychosocial stressor and two pharmacologic probes [ovine corticotropin releasing hormone (oCRH) and cosyntropin] to assess HPA axis reactivity. Plasma cortisol and adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) were assessed at 10–20 min intervals prior to and following behavioral and pharmacological stimulation. Basal and net-integrated responses following provocations were analyzed to identify potential group differences. A measure of childhood adversity was also obtained to consider the implications of prior stressors upon HPA axis function. Results: A three-fold increase in oCRH-induced ACTH was seen in Black men relative to White men regardless of AUD status. Adversity exerted a dampening effect on this pituitary sensitivity within Black controls only. Adjusted for adversity, a significant blunting effect of AUD status on ACTH reactivity was identified within White participants following oCRH. No group differences were present following cosyntropin administration. In response to the psychosocial stressor, White, but not Black, men with AUD experienced the expected blunting of cortisol reactivity relative to White controls. Rather, Black men with AUD exhibited greater cortisol reactivity relative to White men with AUD. Conclusions: Differences in HPA axis reactivity associated with race were present in men with and without AUD. Explanatory biological mechanisms of the relationship between alcohol use and/or stress, in both healthy and unhealthy populations, may require a reassessment in different racial populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)180-189
Number of pages10
StatePublished - Feb 2019


  • ACTH
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Cortisol
  • Race
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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