Most alcohol and health research papers have concentrated on the
effects of alcohol on middle aged & older people.Three researchers
have recently had their research letter 'U shaped relation for alcohol consumption and health in early
adulthood and implications for mortality' published in The Lancet (vol 352 Sept 12, 1998) where they were looking at associations between alcohol consumption
and factors which could predict mortality in young adults.
Dr Chris Power PhD is an epidemiologist from The Institute of Child Health in London, Dr Bryan Rodgers PhD is an epidemiologist and physhologist from the Psychiatric Epidemiology Research Centre,Australian National University in Canberra and Steven Hope MSc is a psychologist and statistician. Due to their psychological
background, the researchers were also interested in the overall
characteristics and differences between drinkers and abstainers.
The population studied were all the people born in England, Scotland
and Wales from 3/3/58 to 9/3/58. These 9,605 individuals (known
as the 1958 birth cohort) were followed up at 23 years and 33
years and their alcohol consumption was recorded along with results
of psychological distress, health(either poor, fair, good or excellent)
and finally any limiting longstanding illnesses.
The researchers found that alcohol consumption was significantly
associated with each of the health measures ( see fig 1), in both men and women, by the 33 year survey.
Four different explanations for the results were offered, namely:
1) Moderate consumption of alcohol may have a causal protecting
effect on health.
2) Poor health may lead to abstinence or heavy drinking.
3) Abstainers and heavy drinkers may share common risk factors
for a particular health outcome.
4) Non-drinkers and heavy drinkers are at an increased health
risk (but risk factors may be diferent).
These results imply that underlying causal mechanisms for ill
health commence much earlier in life, in order to be statistically
evident by the age of 33, than had previously been exposed by
research. The poorer health of non drinkers was also shown not
to be attributed to past heavy drinkers giving up alcohol.
RESULTS ECHOED IN CANBERRA
Dr Rodgers replicated these results in his study in Australia's
capital Canberra. The characteristics of abstainers were also
analysed closely. His full research findings and paper will be
published in early 1999, but the key results were recently presented
at The Australasian Society for Psychiatric Research Conference.The co-morbidity of alcohol abuse with mood and anxiety
disorders has been shown in previous studies, little is known
though, about the nature of this relationship across the full
spectrum of drinking behaviour, namely abstinence to abuse/dependence.
This is what Dr Rodgers has set out to examine.
The Canberra study involved 2,725 people aged 18 to 80 years old
completing the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test and five
measures of negative affect (two depression scales, two anxiety
scales and the neuroticism inventory).
The research findings showed that there is a U shaped relationship
between depression scores and level of alcohol consumption by
different sex and age groups; thus illustrating that abstainers,
as well as heavy drinkers, are at an increased risk of mood and
Further work needs to be done to show the varied characteristics
of abstainers as it is apparent that moderate consumers of alcohol
are the more mentally balanced group, not the abstainers, despite
their belief that they hold the moral high ground in the alcohol