Self-medicating low mood with alcohol use: Examining the role of frequency of alcohol use, quantity consumed and context of drinking

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Objective: The concept of self-medication refers to the use of substances to help cope with periods of psychological distress. This study sought to examine the typical drinking patterns of adults who self-report using alcohol to self-medicate low mood using data from a large, nationally representative US household survey. Materials and methods: Data was from the Wave I (2001-2002) National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). The sample consisted of individuals who met the depression criteria, who indicated that they had drank alcohol to improve their mood when they felt down for at least two weeks, and consumed alcohol in the last 12 months (n = 5900). Alcohol use related to the last 12 months (frequency, quantity, and drinking context). Results: A multiple group Latent Class Analysis was conducted to identified clinically relevant homogeneous groups of drinkers who self-report use of alcohol to self-medicate compared to those who do not. Two latent classes emerged for each of the two self-medicating groups, which were named based on their probabilities, as ‘seldom drinkers’ and ‘hazardous drinkers’ in the self-medication group, and as ‘normal drinkers’ and ‘very seldom drinkers’ in the non-self-medication group. Conclusions: The findings of this paper indicate that the behaviour of self-medication may be a factor in why people may be more hazardous drinkers, and that these individuals are drinking to relieve their mood, more likely than someone who does not use alcohol for this purpose. The findings also provide clinical insight, as the behaviour of self-medication could be used as a target for intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106557
JournalAddictive Behaviors
Early online date17 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Dec 2020


  • Alcohol
  • Context
  • Frequency
  • Low mood
  • Quantity
  • Self-medication


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