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Socioeconomics impacts rates of alcohol-related illness and death

A new study led by Eirik Degerud from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has found a link between frequent alcohol consumption and an increased risk of fatal cardiovascular disease. However, the association was only identified among people in the lowest socioeconomic position.

Individuals with low education, income, and wealth have been shown to consume alcohol less frequently than those in higher socioeconomic positions, yet they experience a higher rate of alcohol-related illnesses and deaths.

The research team analyzed survey data on 207,394 Norwegian adults who were born before October 15, 1960. Information on the individuals included their health and socioeconomic status, as well as their cause of death.

The study revealed that individuals who had drank alcohol both moderately and frequently, which was designated as 2 to 3 times per week, had a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than infrequent drinkers. This association was the most prevalent among people of the highest socioeconomic status.

Individuals who drank alcohol very frequently, which was designated as 4 to 7 times a week, were found to have an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease among people in the lowest socioeconomic position.

The researchers also found that weekly binge drinkers had higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who did not binge drink, and this risk was the same across all socioeconomic positions.

“It is unclear if [these difference in risk] reflects differential confounding of alcohol consumption with health-protective or damaging exposures or differing effects of alcohol on health across socioeconomic groups,” wrote the study authors. “The heterogeneity between groups in the population needs to be assessed when making population recommendations regarding alcohol consumption.”

In an accompanying editorial, Jurgen Rehm and Charlotte Probst of Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health said that the research provides significant evidence to help understand the complex interactions between socioeconomic position and mortality.

They wrote that the findings of the study suggest that “it is not appropriate simply to extrapolate from risks associated with alcohol use in higher-income populations to address lower-income populations where the impact of alcohol use is highest.”

The research is published in PLOS Medicine.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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