The impact of stressful life events on excessive alcohol consumption in the French population: findings from the GAZEL cohort study

PLoS One. 2014 Jan 27;9(1):e87653. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0087653. eCollection 2014.


Background: Major life changes may play a causative role in health through lifestyle factors, such as alcohol. The objective was to examine the impact of stressful life events on heavy alcohol consumption among French adults.

Methods: Trajectories of excessive alcohol consumption in 20,625 employees of the French national gas and electricity company for up to 5 years before and 5 years after an event, with annual measurements from 1992. We used repeated measures analysis of time series data indexed to events, employing generalized estimating equations.

Results: For women, excessive alcohol use increased before important purchase (p = 0.021), children leaving home (p<0.001), and death of loved ones (p = 0.03), and decreased before widowhood (p = 0.015); in the year straddling the event, increased consumption was observed for important purchase (p = 0.018) and retirement (p = 0.002); at the time of the event, consumption decreased for marriage (p = 0.002), divorce, widowhood, and death of loved one (all p<0.001), and increased for retirement (p = 0.035). For men, heavy alcohol consumption increased in the years up to and surrounding the death of loved ones, retirement, and important purchase (all p<0.001), and decreased after (all p<0.001, except death of loved one: p = 0.006); at the time of the event, consumption decreased for all events except for children leaving home and retirement, where we observed an increase (all p<0.001). For women and men, heavy alcohol consumption decreased prior to marriage and divorce and increased after (all p<0.001, except for women and marriage: p = 0.01).

Conclusion: Stressful life events promote healthy and unhealthy alcohol consumption. Certain events impact alcohol intake temporarily while others have longer-term implications. Research should disentangle women's and men's distinct perceptions of events over time.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Divorce / psychology
  • Female
  • France / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Retirement / psychology
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Widowhood / psychology