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Anxious about a speech? Alcohol may calm your nerves but will harm your performance

14 July 2017

I confess, I’ve tried having an alcoholic drink before giving a public speech, telling myself that it will take the edge off my nerves.

But I’m going to think twice before doing so again: a new study in Behaviour Research and Therapy carefully monitored the effects of moderate alcohol intake on the speech-giving performance of socially anxious and control participants and while the alcohol made the nervous folk feel more relaxed, it actually harmed their performance.

Stephan Stevens and his colleagues recruited 99 young adults who met the criteria for social anxiety disorder and 78 non-anxious controls, and then allocated them randomly to one of three conditions:

  • an alcohol group who drank three vodka orange juices with the strength adjusted to their body weight to ensure they reached a blood alcohol concentration of 0.07 per cent (for comparison, the drink drive limit in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the USA, is 0.08, while it’s 0.05 in Scotland)
  • a placebo group who thought the orange juice they were drinking had vodka in it
  • a baseline group who knew they were drinking pure orange juice.

The participants reported how anxious they were feeling before, during and after delivering a three-minute speech on the death penalty in front of an audience of two.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

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