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J Stud Alcohol. 1996 Sep;57(5):494-506.

Determinants of life-course variation in the frequency of alcohol consumption: meta-analysis of studies from the collaborative alcohol-related longitudinal project.

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  • 1Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, San Francisco 94143-0646, USA.



This report evaluates the relative contribution of predictors of change in the frequency of alcohol consumption among drinkers, based on the quantitative synthesis of data from 27 longitudinal studies of the general population. The analysis has two objectives: (1) to evaluate the impact of selected demographic characteristics on the magnitude and trajectory of change in drinking across multiple samples, and (2) to assess the influence of methodological characteristics on the consistency of results across studies.


Raw data from studies including two serial measures of the frequency of alcohol consumption are analyzed. Fixed, random and mixed effects models for meta-analysis are used to pool measures across observations and model the influence of predictors on variability between results.


Gender-based variation in the patterning of change is present across all observations, but concentrated in early periods of the life course. Age displays significant predictive effects across all observations, but statistically uniform results are obtained for subjects aged 30 and over. The national origin of study predicts larger amounts of variation than do other demographic predictors in the models. Significant effects are observed for several methodological characteristics of studies. Variation among effect estimates is associated with differences between samples in the interval between first and final measurements, the date of first measurement (a proxy for the historical context of the sample), the percentage retention of subjects between measurements and the time frame of the original alcohol measure.


Based on the synthesis of data from multiple longitudinal samples, this study (1) characterizes normative developmental patterning in the frequency of alcohol consumption and demonstrates the varying effects of demographic factors across the life-course: (2) indicates the key influence of cultural and historical context on the establishment of drinking patterns; and (3) confirms the impact of methodological differences on variation in the results of studies.

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