OBJECTIVE: To investigate the independent contribution of individual socioeconomic markers and state prohibition policy on alcohol consumption among men and women in India. METHODS: The study used a multilevel cross-sectional analysis of alcohol consumption from the 1998-1999 Indian national family health survey of 301 984 adult individuals in 92 447 households in 3215 villages in 440 districts in 26 states, stratified by sex. FINDINGS: Men with no education were more likely to consume alcohol that those with a post graduate education (OR, 2.28; 95% CI, 2.08-2.50). Unlike men, women showed a U-shaped association between education and alcohol consumption. Men and women living in households at the lowest standard-of-living quintile were more likely to consume alcohol (OR, 1.92; 95% CI, 1.81-2.03, and OR, 2.72, 95% CI, 2.18-3.39), respectively, than those classified as living in the top quintile. Members of scheduled tribes and castes and other backward classes were more likely to consume alcohol than members of other caste groups. There was no difference in alcohol consumption between men from states that were not under prohibition (OR, 1.36; 95% CI 0.69-2.03) and those that were. By contrast, states not under prohibition has higher alcohol use by women (OR, 3.04, 95% CI, 1.59-4.48) than those under partial or complete prohibition. CONCLUSION: Caste, education and standard of living independently influence alcohol use in India. Prohibition policies appear to have little effect on alcohol use by men, but may reduce the proportion of women who consume alcohol. The socioeconomic patterning of health behaviours is likely to feed substantially into inequalities in health outcomes. Further investigation is required to understand how social and cultural factors in more localized contexts (e.g. districts) influence alcohol consumption.
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