Alcohol Consumption in Relation to Risk and Severity of Chronic Widespread Pain: Results from a UK population-based study

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Objectives: To determine whether reported level of alcohol consumption is associated with the likelihood of reporting chronic widespread pain (CWP) and, amongst persons with CWP, the associated disability.

Methods: A population-based study in two areas of the United Kingdom. Participants self-completed a postal questionnaire. They were classified according to whether they met the American College of Rheumatology definition of CWP and whether the pain was disabling (Chronic Pain Grade III or IV). They reported their usual level of alcohol consumption. Potential confounding factors on which information was available included age, gender, cigarette smoking, employment status, self-reported weight and height and level of deprivation.

Results: 13574 persons participated (mean age 55 years; 57% female) of whom 2239 (16.5%) had CWP: 28% reported never regularly consuming alcohol, 28% consuming up to 5 units/wk, 20% 6-10 units/wk and 24% more than 10 units/wk. Amongst persons with CWP, disability was strongly linked to level of alcohol consumption. Prevalence of disability decreased with increasing alcohol consumption up to 35 unit/wk (Odds Ratio (OR)21-35 units alcohol/wk v. never drinkers 0.33 95% CI (0.19,0.58)) adjusted for confounders. A similar relationship was found between reporting CWP and level of alcohol consumption (adjOR21-35 units alcohol/wk v. regular drinkers 0.76 95% CI (0.61-0.94).

Conclusions: This study has demonstrated strong associations between level of alcohol consumption and CWP . However the available evidence does not allow us to conclude that the association is causal. The strength of the associations means that specific studies to examine this potential relationship are warranted. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1297-1303
Number of pages7
JournalArthritis Care & Research
Issue number9
Early online date20 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015

Bibliographical note

The study was funded by Arthritis Research UK, Chesterfield, UK (Grant award number 17292). The funder did not have any role in the design, conduct of the study, in the collection, analysis or interpretation of the data, nor in the preparation, review or approval of the manuscript. We are grateful to the following practices and their patients for participating in the study: in
Aberdeen: Carden Medical Centre, Elmbank Medical Practice, Great Western Medical Practice, Garthdee Medical Group, and in East Cheshire: Readesmoor Medical Group Practice, Lawton House Surgery, Bollington Medical Centre, Park Lane Surgery. The Scottish Primary Care Research Network facilitated access to patient information at the practices in Aberdeen city. Investigators on the
MUSICIAN study were: Gordon J Prescott, Paul McNamee, Philip C Hannaford (all University of Aberdeen), John McBeth, Karina Lovell, Phil Keeley, Deborah PM Symmons (all University of Manchester) and Steve Woby (Penine Acute NHS Trust). Charlie Stockton was the study manager during the setting up and for part of the conduct of the study and Chrysa Gkazinou for the remainder of the study. Elizabeth Jones was part of the study team and undertook her PhD using data from the study (unrelated to the current analysis). John Norrie was originally an investigator of the MUSICIAN study while Director of the Centre for Health Care Randomised Trials (CHART) at the University of Aberdeen. We are grateful for the input of members of the Health Services Research Unit (HSRU) at
The University of Aberdeen in the conduct of the study: Alison MacDonald and Gladys McPherson.
The study was conceived by GJM who also drafted the manuscript. MB undertook the data analysis
and critically reviewed the manuscript.


  • Alcohol
  • Pain
  • Epidemiology


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