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Alcohol-related mortality following the loss of a child: a register-based follow-up study from Norway

Journal title
BMJ open
Publication year
Christiansen, S. G.; Reneflot, A.; Stene-Larsen, K.; Hauge, L. J.

OBJECTIVES: The death of one's child is one of the most stressful events a person can experience. Research has shown that bereaved parents have a higher mortality than non-bereaved parents. This increased mortality might partly be caused directly by long-term stress. However, changes in health behaviour such as an increase in alcohol consumption might also play a role. This study examines the association between losing a child and alcohol-related mortality. In addition to Cox regression models using data covering the entire Norwegian adult population, we employ sibling fixed-effect models in order to partly control for genes and childhood experiences that might be associated with both losing a child and alcohol-related mortality. DESIGN: A follow-up study between 1986 and 2014 based on Norwegian register data. SETTING: Norway. PARTICIPANTS: The entire Norwegian adult population. PRIMARY OUTCOME MEASURE: Alcohol-related mortality. RESULTS: An increased alcohol-related mortality was found among parents who had experienced the death of a child. The HR of alcohol-related mortality among those bereaved of a child was 1.59 (95% CI 1.48 to 1.71) compared with non-bereaved parents, for women 2.03 (95% CI 1.78 to 2.32) and for men 1.46 (95% CI 1.34 to 1.59). After including sibling fixed effects, the HR of alcohol-related mortality among parents who had lost a child was 1.30 (95% CI 1.03 to 1.64). CONCLUSIONS: This study provides evidence of an elevated alcohol-related mortality among parents who have lost a child compared with non-bereaved parents. Although strongly attenuated, there is still an association when adjusting for genetic predisposition for alcohol problems as well as childhood environment using sibling fixed-effect models.

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