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Relationship of Life-Course Drinking Patterns to Diabetes, Heart Problems, and Hypertension Among Those 40 and Older in the 2005 U.S. National Alcohol Survey

William C. Kerr, Yu Ye

Objective: The goal of this study was to estimate relationships between life-course drinking patterns and the risks of self-reported diabetes, heart problems, and hypertension. Method: Respondents to the 2005 National Alcohol Survey, age 40 and older, reported ever having a doctor or health professional diagnose each of the health-problem outcomes. Retrospective earlier-life drinking patterns were characterized by lifetime abstention and the frequency of 5 drinking days (i.e., days on which five or more drinks were consumed) in the respondent's teens, 20s, and 30s. Past-year drinking patterns were measured through intake volume and 5 days. Potential confounders in the domains of demographics, socioeconomic resources, and other health-risk variables--that is, depression, distress, sense of coherence, body mass index, tobacco use, marijuana use, childhood abuse, and family history of alcohol problems--were controlled through propensity-score matching. Results: After matching, lifetime abstainers were found to be at increased risk of diabetes compared with both lifetime and current moderate drinkers. Exdrinkers were found to be at increased risk of diabetes, heart problems, and hypertension. Higher volume drinkers without monthly 5 days were found to be at reduced risk of diabetes relative to moderate-volume current drinkers. Heavy-occasion drinkers were found to be at increased risk of hypertension. Conclusions: Regular lower quantity alcohol intake may be protective against adult onset of diabetes, but no evidence of protection from heart problems or hypertension was found. Both life course–defined and past year–defined drinking groups exhibit substantial clustering of confounding risk variables, indicating the need for modeling strategies like propensity-score matching. Increased risks among exdrinkers suggest a substantial "sick-quitter" effect. (J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs, 71, 515-525, 2010)