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Deficits of respiratory-cardiac coupling in heavy drinkers

Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0278-5846(01)00184-1
  • Acoustic Heart-Rate Response
  • Alcohol
  • Heart-Rate
  • Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia
  • Biology
  • Musicology
  • Physics


Abstract 1. Physiological evidence of chronic alcohol abuse prior to the onset of clinical signs of alcohol dependence is difficult to obtain. The purpose of this study was to search for possible non-invasive indicators for chronic alcohol consumption yielding information in addition to conventional biological markers 2. The authors investigated the relationship between respiratory-cardiac coupling and blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in male subjects who lost their driver's license from drunk driving. 3. We found that subjects who had a high BAC level (0.16–0.31% at the time of offense) show altered respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and, in particular, an altered heart-rate response to auditory stimulation and compared them to a control group of social drinkers. Normal subjects showed a pronounced acoustic heart-rate response, i.e., particularly during expiration there was a difference between the interbeat-interval (IBI) traces with and without auditory stimulation. Subjects who had lost their driver's license from drunk driving had an overall severely reduced heart-rate response, that was even absent particularly in the subgroup having high BAC values (0.21–0.31%). The authors also found some evidence that in the latter subgroup IBI, RSA, and acoustic heart-rate responses partially recover after a six-month period of abstinence. 4. Specific parameters of the acoustic heart-rate response are changed in our group of alcohol abusers presumably, due to impairment of vagal function. These parameters may therefore be useful to serve as a non-invasive measure of alcohol abuse.

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