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Objective: To investigate drinking patterns and gender differences in alcohol-related problems in a Brazilian population, with an emphasis on the frequency of heavy drinking.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted with a probability adult household sample (n = 1,464) in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. Alcohol intake and ICD-10 psychopathology diagnoses were assessed with the Composite International Diagnostic Interview 1.1. The analyses focused on the prevalence and determinants of 12-month non-heavy drinking, heavy episodic drinking (4-5 drinks per occasion), and heavy and frequent drinking (heavy drinking at least 3 times/week), as well as associated alcohol-related problems according to drinking patterns and gender.
Results: Nearly 22% (32.4% women, 8.7% men) of the subjects were lifetime abstainers, 60.3% were non-heavy drinkers, and 17.5% reported heavy drinking in a 12-month period (26.3% men, 10.9% women). Subjects with the highest frequency of heavy drinking reported the most problems. Among subjects who did not engage in heavy drinking, men reported more problems than did women. A gender convergence in the amount of problems was observed when considering heavy drinking patterns. Heavy and frequent drinkers were twice as likely as abstainers to present lifetime depressive disorders. Lifetime nicotine dependence was associated with all drinking patterns. Heavy and frequent drinking was not restricted to young ages.
Conclusions: Heavy and frequent episodic drinking was strongly associated with problems in a community sample from the largest city in Latin America. Prevention policies should target this drinking pattern, independent of age or gender. These findings warrant continued research on risky drinking behavior, particularly among persistent heavy drinkers at the non-dependent level.