Behavioral distress and dysfunctions of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis play a central role in alcohol abuse. Omega-3 fatty acids are proposed as having antistress, regulatory effects on HPA responsiveness, but a possible protective role in ethanol addiction is unexplored.

A randomized, doubleblind, placebo-controlled trial was performed in male alcoholics undergoing residential rehabilitation program, to evaluate the effects of 3-week supplementation with fish-oil providing eicosapentaenoic (60 mg/day) and docosahexaenoic acid (252 mg/day) on perceived stress/anxiety and HPA activity, assessed by measuring saliva basal cortisol levels at various daytimes (0730 h, 1130 h, 1600 h, 2000 h, and 2400 h) and the acute cortisol response to Trier Social Stress Test.

Results showed that in supplemented subjects, before versus after decrease of stress/anxiety ratings was accompanied by reduction of cortisol basal levels throughout the day; no changes were observed in placebo group. At the end of intervention, amplitude, and duration of stress-evoked cortisol response did not differ between groups; however, the peak of cortisol response was temporally anticipated in supplemented subjects.

In conclusion, an elevated omega-3 intake may reduce distress symptoms and basal cortisol secretion in abstinent alcoholics, thus providing a valid subsidiary measure to increase the efficacy of rehabilitation programs in ethanol addicts.