U.S. military veterans with schizophrenia are less likely than the general population to have used alcohol in the past month, according to a study by UCLA researchers.
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition characterized by hallucinations, delusions and memory problems. The disorder affects thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and people with schizophrenia generally begin developing symptoms from ages 16 to 30.
“Going into the study, it wasn’t clear how common alcohol problems were in people with schizophrenia,” Dr. Alex Young, professor of psychiatry at UCLA and lead author of the study, told DrugRehab.com. “This was a study intended to improve the quality of mental health care for veterans.”
The report, published in the journal Psychological Services, evaluated 801 veterans who were participating in intensive outpatient treatment for schizophrenia at Veterans Health Administration medical centers in California, Louisiana, New York and Texas.
The average age of interviewed veterans was 54 years old. More than 23 percent of the group was currently married, about 57 percent had a college background and nearly 15 percent had worked for pay in the past 30 days.
Researchers interviewed these individuals about their mental health issues, prescription regimens, drinking patterns, quality of life and use of treatment services. Interviews were conducted in individual sessions at one of eight participating clinics. Each meeting lasted about an hour, according to Young.
Young and his team evaluated client responses, medical records and data from the Enhancing Quality of Care in Psychosis study to understand the extent of substance use among this group and to determine how veterans are using the services provided by the Veterans Health Administration.
Nearly 23 percent of those interviewed reported drinking in the past month. This represents a lower rate than that of the general population: About 56 percent of U.S. adults reported drinking in the past 30 days, according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
About 15 percent of the veterans in the study reported using alcohol in the past 30 days but denied drinking to intoxication. More than 7 percent of veterans reported misusing alcohol in the past month.
Among the veterans with schizophrenia interviewed for the study, more than 77 percent reported no alcohol use in the past 30 days.
“We were pleasantly surprised that [schizophrenic veterans drank] less often than some people have expected from this population,” said Young.
The researchers placed veterans into one of three categories based on their alcohol use in the past 30 days: no alcohol use, alcohol misuse and alcohol use but no misuse.
Those who reported alcohol misuse, defined by drinking to intoxication in the past month, were more likely than participants of other categories to report illicit drug use in their lifetime, the report found. Veterans who misused alcohol also were more likely than others to be convicted of a drug-related crime.
“[Schizophrenic veterans who misused alcohol] were less likely to take medications needed for treatment and participate in mental health services, and they were doing worse in their life,” said Young. “Veterans misusing alcohol remains a substantial issue.”
Alcoholism is the most common co-occurring disorder among people with schizophrenia, according a report published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Those with an alcohol use disorder and schizophrenia are more likely than those with schizophrenia alone to experience social, legal and medical problems.
The Epidemiologic Catchment Area study, a survey sponsored by the National Institute for Mental Health, found that 33.7 percent of people with schizophrenia or schizophreniform disorder met the criteria for alcoholism at some point in their lives.
The UCLA-led study presented a unique perspective on alcohol use and schizophrenia.
“I think our study shows that having schizophrenia does not increase people’s chances of using alcohol,” said Young. “But people should still be on the lookout for it and encourage [those with schizophrenia] not to drink and drink to excess.”
The study stated that efforts must be made to encourage veterans with alcohol problems to seek treatment. Researchers recommended that clinicians should ask people with schizophrenia about their alcohol use and review with them the consequences of drinking.