Although veterans with schizophrenia are much more likely to abstain from alcohol than the general population, around 15 percent still report some use and another seven percent report misuse and intoxication, according to a new study at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Alcohol has a tendency to worsen symptoms of schizophrenia and can also prevent patients from taking their medications as prescribed. Until now the extent of the problem among veterans with schizophrenia remained unknown, since diagnoses and details regarding substance use are typically not documented in their medical records.
Alcohol and drug use disorders can have a very negative impact on patients with schizophrenia. Previous research of veterans with severe mental illness has shown that heavy drinking prevents them from sticking to prescribed medication regimens.
Efforts to reduce alcohol misuse and better ensure that veterans with schizophrenia take their medications would improve outcomes for them and may reduce the incidence of hospitalization.
In the new study, led by Dr. Alexander Young, a psychiatry professor at UCLA, researchers randomly selected 801 veterans receiving treatment for schizophrenia at Veterans Health Administration medical centers in California, New York, Louisiana, and Texas.
Trained assessors conducted confidential interviews with the veterans to gather information about their psychiatric symptoms, any use of alcohol and illicit drugs, how well they followed their prescription regimens, overall quality of life, and use of treatment services.
At these clinics, only around 22 percent of those interviewed said that they drank any alcohol in the previous 30 days (15 percent reported “some use” and seven percent reported “misuse,” or drinking to intoxication). In contrast, 56 percent of the general population reported drinking in the past month, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The findings show that the veterans in the study who misused alcohol were less likely to take their medications as prescribed, more likely to use other drugs and had a poorer quality of life overall. Compared with those who didn’t drink at all, both alcohol users and misusers reported less use of general medical, mental health, and housing services. Less use of services typically correlates with worse outcomes.
The study shows that there is no safe level of alcohol use for people with schizophrenia, suggesting that clinicians should ask patients with schizophrenia about their drinking habits and advise them about risks.