February 7, 2011

Your Health Can Be Affected When Around Heavy Drinkers

Compared to people who didn't have heavy drinkers in their lives, 3,000 New Zealanders who did had lower scores on standard measures of general health.

Chronic pain, anxiety and depression symptoms, and overall satisfaction with life were found with those with a family member, friend or colleague who drank heavily, Reuters Health reported.

The findings, reported in the journal Addiction, did not prove that being around a heavy drinker was the root of study participants' problems. The average effect was similar to what has been seen in studies of people caring for someone with a disability, according to lead researcher Dr. Sally Casswell, of Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand.

Casswell told Reuters Health by e-mail, the study is just "a snapshot at one point in time, so... some other explanation is possible. It's possible," she notes," that people with poorer well-being are more likely to attract heavy drinkers into their lives, for example."

A number of factors could explain why knowing a heavy drinker was linked to poorer well-being, Casswell continued. People who know heavy drinkers might, for example, drink heavily themselves, or tend to be less-educated or have lower incomes. None of those theories however explained the researchers' findings.

Subjects who actually lived with a heavy drinker had lower scores on measures of general health and personal well-being. "Personal well-being" was applied to people's satisfaction with their relationships, work, health and what they were achieving in life.

Although "heavy drinking" was not defined; it was up to participants to decide if someone in their life met that description. The current study consisted of 3,068 12- to 80-year-olds who were asked whether they had any heavy drinkers in their life.

About one in three said they had at least one heavy drinker in their life in the past year. Most often being a friend, family member or partner, although in some cases it was someone at work. However people with even relatively minor exposure to heavy drinkers -- like those with a co-worker or a more-distant relative who drank -- also reported lower satisfaction with life compared with people who claimed no heavy drinkers in their life.

Casswell suggested the findings highlight a broad impact heavy drinking can have, and this potential "harm to others" should be considered in policy debates aimed at curbing heavy drinking, she tells Reuters Health.


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