Doesn't make sense, right? Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to poor physical and mental health but they cite evidence saying that levels of alcohol consumption that are too low may also be associated with poor mental health possibly - obviously, abstainers may have other issues or even be reformed heavy drinkers.
The study utilized data from the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (HUNT Study) based in Norway, which provided information on the drinking habits and mental health of over 38,000 individuals. Using this data, the authors say that those individuals who reported drinking no alcohol over a two week period were more likely than moderate drinkers to report symptoms of depression.
Those individuals who additionally labelled themselves as "abstainers" were at the highest risk of depression. Age, physical health problems, number of close friends or other factors can explain some, but not all of this increased risk, they write. The authors also had access to reported levels of alcohol consumption 10 years prior to the main survey. This showed that fourteen percent of current abstainers had previously been heavy drinkers, but this did not explain all of the increased risk of depression amongst abstainers.
The authors conclude that in societies where some use of alcohol is the norm, abstinence may be associated with being socially marginalised or particular personality traits that may also be associated with mental illness.
It should also be noted that alcohol use is associated with many physical health problems, with excessive alcohol consumption being estimated to contribute to over 33,000 death in the UK each year and many more injuries. The current guidance is for men to drink no more than three to four units each day, and women to drink no more than two to three units.
Article: Skogen J. C., Harvey S. B., Henderson M., Stordal E., Mykletun A. Anxiety and depression among abstainers and low-level alcohol consumers. Addiction 2009; 104: 1519-1529