The burden of alcohol use disorders in US military veterans: results from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study

Addiction. 2016 Oct;111(10):1786-94. doi: 10.1111/add.13423. Epub 2016 May 26.


Aims: To analyze data from a large, contemporary, nationally representative sample of US veterans to evaluate: (1) the prevalence of life-time alcohol use disorder (AUD) and past-year AUD; (2) common psychiatric comorbidities associated with life-time AUD; and (3) correlates of life-time and past-year probable AUD.

Design: Data were analyzed from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study (NHRVS), a web-based survey of a random probability sample of a contemporary, nationally representative sample of US military veterans.

Setting: United States.

Participants: Nationally representative sample of 3157 US veterans aged 21 years and older.

Measurements: Life-time alcohol abuse and dependence were assessed according to DSM-IV diagnostic criteria using the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview, and combined into a single variable: AUD. Past-year probable AUD was assessed using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Consumption (AUDIT-C). Correlates of AUD, including psychiatric comorbidities, suicidality and demographic characteristics, were also assessed.

Findings: The prevalence of life-time AUD and past-year probable AUD was 42.2% [95% confidence interval (CI) = 40.5-43.9%)] and 14.8% (95% CI = 13.6-16.0%), respectively. Compared with veterans without AUD, those with life-time AUD had substantially elevated rates of life-time and current mood and anxiety disorders [odds ratios (ORs) = 2.6-4.1], drug use disorder (OR = 10.7), life-time suicide attempt (OR = 4.1) and current suicidal ideation (OR = 2.1). Younger age, male sex, lower education, lower annual household income and greater number of life-time traumatic events were associated independently with life-time AUD. Younger age, male sex, unpartnered marital status and a life-time diagnosis of major depressive disorder were associated independently with past-year probable AUD.

Conclusions: More than 40% of US military veterans have a life-time history of alcohol use disorder. Veterans with a life-time history of alcohol use disorder have substantial comorbid psychiatric burden, including elevated rates of suicidal ideation and attempts. Certain socio-demographic (e.g. younger age, male sex, lower education) and clinical (e.g. trauma burden, history of depression) characteristics are associated with increased risk of AUD.

Keywords: Alcohol use disorder; anxiety disorder; comorbidity; dual diagnosis; epidemiology; military; mood disorder; veterans.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Cost of Illness
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Resilience, Psychological
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult