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Addiction. 1998 Feb;93(2):183-203.

Alcohol consumption and mortality. I. Characteristics of drinking groups.

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



This is the first of a set of three papers evaluating drinking status and mortality risk. Analyses of multiple studies describe associations of drinking patterns with characteristics hypothesized to confound the relationships between drinking status and mortality. Characteristics which both significantly differentiate drinking groups and are consistent across studies would suggest that mortality studies not controlling for them may be compromised.


Associations are evaluated from the raw data of 10 general population studies which contained mortality data. Long-term abstainers are compared to former drinkers, long-term abstainers and former drinkers are compared to light drinkers (by quantity, frequency and volume in separate analyses) and moderate to heavy drinkers are compared to light drinkers. Tetrachoric correlation coefficients assess statistical significance; meta-analysis determines if associations are homogeneous across studies.


Measures of alcohol consumption are quantity, frequency and volume; long-term abstainers are differentiated from former drinkers. Multiple measures of health, social position, social integration and mental health characteristics are evaluated.


Across studies, adult male former drinkers are consistently more likely to be heavier smokers, depressed, unemployed, lower SES and to have used marijuana than long-term abstainers. Adult female former drinkers are consistently more likely to be heavier smokers, in poorer health, not religious, and unmarried than long-term abstainers. Both types of abstainers tend to be of lower SES than light drinkers and report poorer health (not consistent). Female abstainers are more likely to be of normal or overweight than light drinkers.


Characteristics of two groups of abstainers, other than their non-use of alcohol, may confound the associations found between drinking and mortality risk.

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