Background: The high rates of alcohol use in the population, the increased general health care utilization associated with untreated alcohol problems, and the often diffuse nature of somatization symptoms led us to hypothesize that somatization symptoms might be associated with alcohol use. Objective: To determine whether a relationship exists between somatization symptoms and alcohol use. Design: Multivariable logistic regression models were used to analyze existing cross-sectional and 1-year longitudinal survey data from the National Institute of Mental Health Epidemiologic Catchment Area Program. Setting: Community households. Subjects: Probability sample. Interventions: None. Main Outcome Measures: Prevalent and incident heavy or binge drinking ("extreme alcohol use"). These measures are part of the National Institute of Mental Health Epidemiologic Catchment Area Program public core data set that was collected without regard for specific hypotheses. Results: After control for sex, age, and education, 13 self-reported somatization symptoms showed independent cross-sectional associations to prevalent extreme alcohol use. The greater the number of somatization symptoms, the greater the risk, up to a maximum increased odds ratio of 138 to 1, of having comorbid extreme alcohol use when reporting all 13 somatization symptoms in the model. A smaller set of items was associated with the risk for subsequent new onset of extreme alcohol use. Conclusions: Self-reported somatization symptoms could add to the detection of extreme alcohol use. In addition, primary care and other physicians should consider somatic complaints as possible indicators of concurrent and future risk for extreme alcohol use. Potential benefits of better detection of extreme alcohol use include supporting primary and secondary prevention efforts and reduced expenditures for the diagnostic workup of somatic complaints.
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