Aim: To assess the possible effects of changes in marital status, employment status and having children at home on alcohol consumption and the frequency of heavy drinking. With role theory as a starting point it was expected that a shift into more social roles would decrease consumption and heavy drinking while the shift away from social roles would be associated with an increase in consumption and heavy drinking.
Design: Prospective cohort study.
Setting: The province of Limburg, The Netherlands (1980-89).
Participants: 1327 men and women aged 16-69 years at first measurement.
Measurements: Weekly consumption of standard units (10 g ethanol) of alcoholic beverages; frequency of drinking six units or more; self-reported social role.
Findings: The acquisition of a spouse role and a parental role but not an employment role was associated with a decrease in consumption or heavy drinking. The loss of the spouse role among women was associated with an increase in heavy drinking. Otherwise, losing a role was not linked with a change in consumption and heavy drinking.
Conclusions: Limited support was found for the expectation that role transitions influence drinking behaviour. Our study suggests that other theories must be sought to explain social differences in drinking behaviour.