We aimed to examine the association between loneliness and developing alcohol dependence or hazardous alcohol use. A cohort study was conducted utilizing data from a nationwide internet survey in 2021 and 2022 in Japan. A total of 15,854 follow-up participants (55% men, with a mean age of 52.8 years) were divided based on AUDIT scores: nondrinkers (AUDIT: 0), low-risk drinkers (AUDIT: 1-7), medium-risk drinkers (AUD: 8-14), high-risk drinkers (AUDIT: 15-19), and probable alcohol dependence (AUDIT: 20-40). The University of California, Los Angeles Loneliness Scale (Version 3), a short-form three-item scale, was used to assess loneliness (high loneliness score of ≥6). The prevalence of high loneliness was higher in nondrinkers than that in low- and medium-risk drinkers, i.e., 22%, 18%, and 17%, respectively, as well as in high-risk drinkers (32%) and those with probable alcohol dependence (43%) compared to non-high-risk drinkers (19%). After adjusting for various factors (sociodemographic, social isolation, psychological distress, and smoking), non-high-risk drinkers (AUDIT: 0-14) with high loneliness were more likely to become high-or-over-risk drinkers (AUDIT: 15-40) than those without high loneliness, with adjusted risk ratios of 1.45 (95% confidence interval: 1.08-1.96) through multivariable binary logistic regression. Among non-high-risk drinkers, people with high loneliness scores at baseline were associated with increased high-risk drinking patterns with probable alcohol dependence.
Keywords: COVID-19; alcohol use disorders; alcohol use disorders identification test; hazardous alcohol use; loneliness.