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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Being around heavy drinkers may take a health toll

Being around heavy drinkers may take a health toll

From a February 4, 2011 Health Day news item by Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – If you have a heavy drinker in your life, your own health and well-being could suffer because of it, new research suggests.

The study of more than 3,000 New Zealanders showed that people with a family member, friend or colleague who drank heavily generally gave lower ratings to their own health and well-being.

Compared to people who didn’t have heavy drinkers in their lives, those who did had lower scores on standard measures of general health — things like chronic pain, anxiety and depression symptoms — and overall satisfaction with life.

The average effect was similar to what’s 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.

The findings, reported in the journal Addiction, do not prove that being around a heavy drinker was the root of study participants’ problems.

The study is just “a snapshot at one point in time,” Casswell told Reuters Health by email, “so…some other explanation is possible.”

It’s possible, she noted, that people with poorer well-being are more likely to attract heavy drinkers into their lives, for example.

But Casswell’s team did account for a number of factors that could explain why knowing a heavy drinker was linked to poorer well-being. People who know heavy drinkers might, for example, drink heavily themselves, or tend to be less-educated or have lower incomes. But none of those things explained the researchers’ findings.

Casswell said the findings are also in line with studies that have followed families of people in treatment for drinking problems. In those, having a family member who drank heavily appeared to take a health toll over time.

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

Overall, about one in three said they had at least one heavy drinker in their life in the past year. Most often, it was a friend, family member or partner, but in some cases it was someone at work.

Not surprisingly, people who actually lived with a heavy drinker had the lowest scores on measures of general health and personal well-being. “Personal well-being” applied to people’s satisfaction with their relationships, work, health and what they were achieving in life.

But even people with relatively minor exposure to heavy drinkers — like those with a co-worker or a more-distant relative who drank — generally reported lower satisfaction with life compared with people who had no heavy drinkers in their life.

According to Casswell, the findings highlight the broad impact heavy drinking can have.

In contrast to research on families with a member in treatment for alcohol problems, she said, “what the current study does is get more of a sense of the size of the problem across an entire population.”

This potential “harm to others” should be considered in debates about policies aimed at curbing heavy drinking, Casswell said.

Such policies, she noted, include raising the price of alcohol (through taxes or setting minimum prices for alcohol), stricter enforcement of laws on drunk driving and minimum drinking age, and controlling the number of alcohol retailers that can set up shop in a given area.

SOURCE: Addiction, online January 13, 2011.


February 9, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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