Study Shows Some Reduction in Chronic Pain for Veterans After Decreased Unhealthy Alcohol Use

October 8, 2020

Veterans with chronic pain should consider reducing alcohol usage to combat symptoms.

According to a recent study, US veterans may see a reduction in their chronic pain symptoms if they reduce their unhealthy alcohol use.1,2 Analysis showed that reduced drinking for 1 year increased the odds of improved pain symptoms after 2 years and stopped usage of smoking, cannabis, or cocaine.

Researchers pulled data from Veterans Aging Cohort Study (VACS), focusing on approximately 1500 participants, both HIV positive and HIV negative, out of the 7000 veterans that receive care in VACS health centers. Using the VACS surveys conducted from 2003 to 2015, where veterans marked their past-year alcohol/substance use and their co-occurring symptoms or conditions, researchers analyzed the impact of decreased drinking on chronic pain, psychiatric symptoms, and alternate substance usage on veterans with regular alcohol abuse. 

The first survey indicated co-occurring symptoms or conditions were common. Almost half had moderate to severe chronic pain, and more than half had anxiety symptoms, while a third had depression. More than two-thirds reported smoking, a third reported past cannabis use, and another third reported cocaine use.

Researchers identified 2 groups after the following year’s survey: those who had reduced drinking and those who had not. They compared the 2 groups for improvement of their conditions after the following year, and found some improvement in chronic pain, but little evidence for reduction in symptoms of anxiety or depression.

As the timing of alcohol reduction relative to condition improvement was unknown and the analysis did not control for other impacting factors, it cannot be definitely concluded that reduced drinking is the cause for improvement.

More precise studies, where timing and reasons for changes in drinking habits are monitored, will need to be conducted to fully evaluate the effect of reduced drinking on chronic pain and other co-occurring conditions. Until then, the findings from this study suggest enough improvement in chronic pain symptoms for veterans to support efforts in reduced drinking.

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References

1. Caniglia E, Stevens ER, Khan M, Young KE, et al. Does reducing drinking in patients with unhealthy alcohol use improve pain interference, use of other substances, and psychiatric symptoms? October 8, 2020.

2. Research Society on Alcoholism. Reducing Drinking Among US Veterans with Unhealthy Alcohol Use Might Improve Chronic Pain Symptoms and Reduce Other Substance Use. News release. Newswise. October 3, 2020. Accessed October 7, 2020. https://www.newswise.com/articles/reducing-drinking-among-us-veterans-with-unhealthy-alcohol-use-might-improve-chronic-pain-symptoms-and-reduce-other-substance-use