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The association between alcohol abstinence, drinking or binge drinking and drug use: is alcohol abstinence that safe?

Marc Dupuis (Institute of Psychology, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland.)
Stéphanie Baggio (Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland.)
Marion Emilie Accard (Alcohol Treatment Centre, Lausanne University Hospital, Lausanne, Switzerland.)
Meichun Mohler-Kuo (Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Prevention Institute, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.)
Gerhard Gmel (Alcohol Treatment Centre, Lausanne University Hospital, Lausanne, Switzerland; Addiction Switzerland, Lausanne, Switzerland; Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Canada and University of the West of England, Bristol, UK.)

Drugs and Alcohol Today

ISSN: 1745-9265

Article publication date: 5 September 2016




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the association between alcohol abstinence and illicit drug use during early adulthood, and compares abstinence to moderate drinking and binge drinking, regrouped in different frequencies.


A total of 5,968 young male adults who completed the questionnaires were selected for the analyses. Alcohol abstinent participants were compared to moderate drinkers (who did not experience binge drinking during the previous 12 months), and casual, monthly, weekly and daily binge drinkers in terms of prevalence of drug use during early adulthood.


Alcohol abstinence was associated with higher risks of drug use than moderate drinking (odds ratio (OR)>3) for most of drugs, especially last-stage drugs: crystal meth, solvents, spice and heroin (6.50<OR<13.50). Such findings encourage rethinking prevention among alcohol abstainers who were so far considered at low risk of drug use.

Research limitations/implications

The main limitations of the study are the fact that it is cross-sectional, gender-blind and focussing on Swiss native who are less vulnerable than migrants.

Practical implications

High-risk subjects should be identified among young people who do not drink in order to develop specific preventive interventions.


This study is one of the first that compare alcohol abstinence, moderate drinking and binge drinking. Separate results covering 15 different drugs are presented.



Funding: this research was funded by Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant FN 33CS30_139467).The authors wish to thank C-SURF coordinators, namely Mrs Charlotte Eidenbenz and Dr Joseph Studer for their invaluable work throughout this research project. Additional information, including English, French and German complete versions of the questionnaires used, is freely available on C-SURF website (


Dupuis, M., Baggio, S., Accard, M.E., Mohler-Kuo, M. and Gmel, G. (2016), "The association between alcohol abstinence, drinking or binge drinking and drug use: is alcohol abstinence that safe?", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 212-221.



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