• Alcohol use;
  • coping style;
  • gender;
  • life-events;
  • social support;
  • stress


Aims  This study examines the relationship between stressful life-events and alcohol use in a longitudinal cohort study, and investigates whether gender, coping style and social support modify this relationship.

Design, setting and participants  Data analysed in this paper come from a sample of 1608 men and 1645 women drawn randomly from the cohort known as the Dutch Lifestyle and Health Study, consisting of 16 210 men and women aged 45–70 years, who were followed-up for 4 years (1996–2000).

Measurement  Alcohol use (recent and in the more distant past), occurrence of threatening life-events, coping style (action, cognitive and emotion coping), social support (perceived, actual support and social contacts) and other potential confounding factors were assessed with five annual self-administered questionnaires. The data were analysed with a mixed-effects modelling technique, controlling for interactions with time and gender.

Findings and conclusion  An interaction effect was found between experiencing a negative life-event and emotion coping on alcohol use. A positive relationship was found between the occurrence of negative life-events and alcohol use in subjects scoring high on emotion coping, and a negative one among subjects scoring low on emotion coping. Cognitive coping, action coping, actual support, social contacts and gender did not modify the relationship between life-events and alcohol use. However, having a more cognitive coping style or more social contacts was associated with a lower level of alcohol use, whereas having an action coping style and receiving more actual social support was associated with a higher drinking level. It seems plausible that people scoring high on emotion coping, characterized by a passive, resigned, indulgent and self-accusatory coping style, increase their alcohol use after experiencing a negative life-event.