Most studies on heavy drinking and sedative/anxiolytic drug use have been cross-sectional, and evidence for a possible temporal association is lacking.
To prospectively investigate whether heavy drinking predicts initiation, continuation, or discontinuation of sedative/anxiolytic drugs at 4 and 11 years and, conversely, whether sedative/anxiolytic drug use predicts heavy drinking.
This was a longitudinal population-based study conducted in Kuopio, Finland. An age-stratified random sample of 1516 men aged 42, 48, 54, and 60 years received a structured clinical examination at baseline (August 1986-December 1989). Follow-up clinical examinations were conducted at 4 (n = 1038) and 11 (n = 854) years. Multinomial logistic regression was used to compute odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals for the association between sedative/anxiolytic drug use and initiation, continuation, and discontinuation of heavy drinking (= 14 drinks/wk). The reverse association between heavy drinking and sedative/anxiolytic drug use was also investigated. Regression models were adjusted for age, working status, smoking, and depressive symptoms.
At baseline 12.9% (134/1038) of participants were heavy drinkers and 4.0% (41/1030) used sedative/anxiolytic drugs. In multivariate analyses, baseline heavy drinking predicted initiation of sedative/anxiolytic drug use at 4 years (OR 2.96; 95% CI 1.23 to 7.15). Conversely, baseline sedative/anxiolytic drug use predicted continuation of heavy drinking at 11 years in unadjusted analysis (OR 3.30; 95% CI 1.19 to 8.44). However, the association was not statistically significant in adjusted analyses (OR 2.69; 95% CI 0.86 to 8.44).
The main finding of this study was the association between heavy drinking and subsequent initiation of sedative/anxiolytic drugs that was not fully explained by baseline depressive symptoms. This may inform strategies to optimize the use of sedative/anxiolytic drugs, and assist in the early identification of patients at risk of heavy drinking. Clinicians should consider a patient's alcohol consumption prior to prescribing or dispensing sedative/anxiolytic drugs. Clinicians should also monitor patients prescribed sedative/anxiolytic drugs for subsequent heavy drinking.