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

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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.

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Author Skogen was supported by the Alcohol and Drug Research Western Norway, Stavanger University Hospital. Alcohol and Drug Research Western Norway had no role in the study design, collection, analysis or interpretation of the data, writing the manuscript, or the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Informed Consent

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000. Informed consent was obtained from all participants for being included in the study. The HUSK study was approved by the Regional Ethics Committee of Western Norway and by the Norwegian Data Inspectorate. Written statements of informed consent were gathered from all the participants at the time of physical examination. The current study was also approved by the Regional Ethics Committee of Western Norway.

Conflict of Interest

Authors Skogen, Knudsen, Myrtveit, and Sivertsen declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Jens Christoffer Skogen.

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Skogen, J.C., Knudsen, A.K., Myrtveit, S.M. et al. Abstention, Alcohol Consumption, and Common Somatic Symptoms: the Hordaland Health Study (HUSK). Int.J. Behav. Med. 22, 24–31 (2015).

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