Economic crises are complex events that affect behavioral patterns (including alcohol consumption) via opposing mechanisms. With this realist systematic review, we aimed to investigate evidence from studies of previous or ongoing crises on which mechanisms (How?) play a role among which individuals (Whom?). Such evidence would help understand and predict the potential impact of economic crises on alcohol consumption. Medical, psychological, social, and economic databases were used to search for peer-reviewed qualitative or quantitative empirical evidence (published January 1, 1990–May 1, 2014) linking economic crises or stressors with alcohol consumption and alcohol-related health problems. We included 35 papers, based on defined selection criteria. From these papers, we extracted evidence on mechanism(s), determinant, outcome, country-level context, and individual context. We found 16 studies that reported evidence completely covering two behavioral mechanisms by which economic crises can influence alcohol consumption and alcohol-related health problems. The first mechanism suggests that psychological distress triggered by unemployment and income reductions can increase drinking problems. The second mechanism suggests that due to tighter budget constraints, less money is spent on alcoholic beverages. Across many countries, the psychological distress mechanism was observed mainly in men. The tighter budget constraints mechanism seems to play a role in all population subgroups across all countries. For the other three mechanisms (i.e., deterioration in the social situation, fear of losing one's job, and increased non-working time), empirical evidence was scarce or absent, or had small to moderate coverage. This was also the case for important influential contextual factors described in our initial theoretical framework. This realist systematic review suggests that among men (but not among women), the net impact of economic crises will be an increase in harmful drinking. Such a different net impact between men and women could potentially contribute to growing gender-related health inequalities during a crisis.
- Economic crisis, Alcohol consumption, Alcohol-related health problems, Realist systematic review