Moderate alcohol consumption is associated with decreased risk for depression, but it remains unclear whether this is a causal relationship or a methodological artifact. To compare the effects of consistent abstinence and occasional, moderate, and above-guideline alcohol consumption throughout early to middle adulthood on depression at age 50, the authors conducted a secondary analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort and employed a marginal structural model (MSM) approach.
Baseline was set at 1994, when individuals were ages 29-37. The MSM incorporated measurements of alcohol consumption in 1994, 2002, and 2006, baseline and time-varying covariates, and repeated measurements with the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale-Short Form (CES-D-SF). A total of 5,667 eligible participants provided valid data at baseline, 3,593 of whom provided valid outcome data. The authors used all observed data to predict CES-D-SF means and rates of probable depression for hypothetical trajectories of consistent alcohol consumption.
The results approximated J-curve relationships. Specifically, both consistent occasional and consistent moderate drinkers were predicted to have reduced CES-D-SF scores and rates of probable depression at age 50 compared with consistent abstainers (CES-D-SF scores: b=-0.84, 95% CI=-1.47, -0.11; probable depression: odds ratio=0.58, 95% CI=0.36, 0.88 for consistent occasional drinkers vs. abstainers; CES-D-SF scores: b=-1.08, 95% CI=-1.88, -0.20; probable depression: odds ratio=0.59, 95% CI=0.26, 1.13 for consistent moderate drinkers vs. consistent abstainers). Consistent above-guideline drinkers were predicted to have slightly increased risk compared with consistent abstainers, but this was not significant. In sex-stratified analyses, results were similar for females and males.
This study contributes preliminary evidence that associations between moderate alcohol consumption and reduced risk for depression may reflect genuine causal effects. Further research using diverse methodologies that promote causal inference is required.