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Alcohol and Mortality from External Causes

Deborah A. Dawson

Objective: The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between alcohol consumption, considering both volume of intake and drinking pattern, and the risk of death from external causes. Method: A prospective study of mortality from external causes was conducted using data from the 1988 National Health Interview Survey linked with the National Death Index for 1988 through 1995. During the 7.5-year follow-up interval, there were 155 deaths from external causes among the 42,910 adults 18 years of age and over included in the sample. Proportional hazards models were used to adjust for censoring due to competing causes of death and for the effects of potentially confounding background variables including age, gender, marital status, education, smoking and poor health at baseline. Results: Relative to lifetime abstainers and infrequent drinkers, the risk of death from external causes increased directly with volume of intake, exhibiting a logarithmic-shaped risk curve. There was no evidence of reduced risk among light or moderate drinkers. When usual quantity and frequency were examined, the only drinkers at significantly increased risk were those who drank less than once a month but usually drank 5+ drinks (or, to a lesser extent, 3+ drinks) and those who drank at least twice a week and usually drank 2+ drinks. Former drinkers also were at increased risk. Age strongly affected the drinking pattern parameters. Conclusions: Quantity and frequency of drinking are proxies for in-the-event risks associated with alcohol intake and their cumulative effect on mortality risk. The results are discussed with particular attention to the role of factors that may affect the association between usual quantity of drinks consumed and the in-the-event risk of mortality from external causes. (J. Stud. Alcohol 62: 790-797, 2001)