International Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 24–31

Abstention, Alcohol Consumption, and Common Somatic Symptoms: the Hordaland Health Study (HUSK)

  • Jens Christoffer Skogen
  • Ann Kristin Knudsen
  • Solbjørg Makalani Myrtveit
  • Børge Sivertsen

DOI: 10.1007/s12529-014-9407-5

Cite this article as:
Skogen, J.C., Knudsen, A.K., Myrtveit, S.M. et al. Int.J. Behav. Med. (2015) 22: 24. doi:10.1007/s12529-014-9407-5



The association between alcohol consumption and somatic symptoms is unclear.


The aim of this study was to examine the cross-sectional association between the whole continuum of alcohol consumption, ranging from abstention to high-level consumption, and the overall level of common somatic symptoms in a large population-based sample.


Data are from the Hordaland Health Study, conducted in 1997–1999 with participants aged 40–46 years (N = 15,018). The main exposure was a categorical variable based on self-reported abstention and alcohol consumption, while self-reported overall level of somatic symptoms was the outcome. The outcome was defined by the mean overall frequency of 17 commonly experienced somatic symptoms. Potential confounders included sociodemographic information, somatic diagnoses, and health-related behaviors. Linear regression models were computed in the statistical analyses.


We found no association between different levels of alcohol consumption and overall level of somatic symptoms. Abstainers reported, however, a higher overall level of somatic symptoms compared to those who consumed alcohol at any level, even after adjusting for potential confounders. Investigating the individual somatic symptoms, we found that the abstainers had a higher frequency of 10 of the 17 symptoms compared to the remainder, while higher frequency was found for only 2 somatic symptoms among the 5 % with the highest alcohol consumption.


We found no support for an association between alcohol consumption and overall level of somatic symptoms. There was, however, a small association between being abstinent and increased level of somatic symptoms. These findings may have several different explanations, and further investigation is called for.


Alcohol consumption Abstention Sick-quitting Somatic symptoms Somatization 

Copyright information

© International Society of Behavioral Medicine 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jens Christoffer Skogen
    • 1
    • 2
    • 8
  • Ann Kristin Knudsen
    • 2
    • 3
  • Solbjørg Makalani Myrtveit
    • 2
    • 4
    • 5
  • Børge Sivertsen
    • 2
    • 6
    • 7
  1. 1.Alcohol and Drug Research Western NorwayStavanger University HospitalStavangerNorway
  2. 2.Division of Mental HealthNorwegian Institute of Public HealthBergenNorway
  3. 3.Department of Global Public Health and Primary CareUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  4. 4.Department of Clinical ScienceUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  5. 5.Department of Psychological MedicineUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  6. 6.Uni HealthUni ResearchBergenNorway
  7. 7.Department of PsychiatryHelse Fonna HFHaugesundNorway
  8. 8.Department of Public Mental HealthNorwegian Institute of Public HealthBergenNorway

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