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Previous studies have shown that people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol are much less likely to report chronic widespread pain than those who do not drink or drink only rarely. We cannot be sure whether drinking alcohol at this level is causing people to have less pain, or whether people who have worse pain and worse health generally decide to drink less because of their pain and health status.
We used data from the UK Biobank to look at how much reporting of this type of pain varied according to how much people drank. Particularly we wanted to look at the group of people who said that they had not changed their drinking behaviour in the past, either through ill health or for other reasons. We found that the pattern of pain reporting was the same whether people had stopped or lowered their drinking in the past or not. Among those people who had not changed their drinking behaviour, non-drinkers were 5 or 6 times as likely to report chronic widespread pain as those drinking moderate amounts of alcohol. This is a very big relationship but this type of study by itself cannot tell us the reasons for the relationship.