The beneficial outcomes associated with moderate compared with low alcohol intake or abstinence may be due to the inclusion of people as ‘low consumers’, who have stopped consumption because of poor health. We investigated the association between alcohol abstinence and symptoms of common mental disorder and personality disorder, distinguishing between lifelong abstinence and abstinence following previous consumption.
Analyses were based on the British National Survey of Psychiatric Morbidity 2000, which sampled 8580 residents aged 16–74 years. Hazardous drinking (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test) was excluded. Symptoms of common mental disorder (depression/anxiety) were identified by the Clinical Interview Schedule. The screening questionnaire of the Structured Clinical Interview for Axis II Personality Disorders was used to identify potential personality disorder. Self-reported alcohol abstinence was divided into lifelong abstinence and previous consumption. Previous consumers were asked why they had stopped. Covariates included socio-economic status, social activity and general health status.
After adjustment, alcohol abstinence was associated with both common mental disorder symptoms and any personality disorder, but only for previous consumers, in whom odds ratios were 1.69 (95% CI 1.23–2.32) and 1.45 (95% CI 1.09–1.94). Associations were non-specific, being apparent for most individual mental disorder symptoms and personality disorder categories. More detailed analysis indicated that associations were again limited to previous consumers who reported ceasing alcohol consumption for health reasons.
Worse mental health in low alcohol consumers, particularly those who have previously ceased for health reasons, should be taken into account when interpreting associations between moderate (compared with low) alcohol consumption and beneficial health outcomes.
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