What is it about?

It’s well-known that really heavy drinking is associated with poorer mental health, but some previous research had indicated that a little bit of alcohol might actually be better than not drinking at all. We wanted to test that idea rigorously. We took a large US dataset, and looked at drinking levels across early-to-mid adulthood (29-49) and how that affected depression at age 50. We found that consistently drinking occasionally or moderately led to a small reduction in risk for depression and depressive symptoms when compared with non-drinking.

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Why is it important?

Depression is a major health concern globally, and cases have risen by about 50% worldwide in the last thirty years. It is therefore very important to investigate possible risk and protective factors for depression. Historically, it’s been difficult to disentangle association and causation when it comes to alcohol and depression, or alcohol and health more generally. This is because there are a lot of complex relationships going on between alcohol, health and many other background factors, and these change with each other over time. We used some sophisticated statistical methods that separated these factors out.

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This page is a summary of: Moderate Alcohol Consumption and Depression: A Marginal Structural Model Approach Promoting Causal Inference, American Journal of Psychiatry, March 2023, American Psychiatric Association,
DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.22010043.
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