Post-Combat-Injury Opioid Prescription and Alcohol Use Disorder in the Military

Karl C. Alcover*, Eduard A. Poltavskiy, Jeffrey T. Howard, Jessica R. Watrous, Jud C. Janak, Lauren E. Walker, Ian J. Stewart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Introduction: Previous studies have identified combat exposure and combat traumatic experience as problematic drinking risk factors. Increasing evidence suggests that opioid use increases the risk of alcohol use disorder. This study investigated the association between opioid prescription use after injury and (1) alcohol use disorder and (2) severity of alcohol use disorder among deployed military servicemembers. Methods: Deidentified health records data of 9,029 deployed servicemembers from a retrospective cohort study were analyzed. Data were randomly selected from the Department of Defense Trauma Registry and included servicemembers with combat injuries during deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan (2002–2016). Pharmacy records and International Classification of Diseases, Ninth and Tenth Revision diagnosis codes were used. Three groups were identified (no opioid prescription use, nonpersistent opioid prescription use, and persistent opioid prescription use) and were compared on the basis of alcohol use disorder risk using Cox proportional hazard models. Data analyses were performed in 2021. Results: Of the 9,029 servicemembers with combat injury, 2,262 developed alcohol use disorder (1,322 developed severe alcohol use disorder). Compared with no opioid prescription use, increased alcohol use disorder risk was associated with persistent opioid prescription use, with a hazard ratio of 1.13 (95% CI=1.02, 1.26). After covariate adjustment, increased risk remained statistically significant (hazards ratio=1.24; 95% CI=1.10, 1.39). There was no significant difference in alcohol use disorder risk between no opioid prescription use and nonpersistent opioid prescription use. The risk of severe alcohol use disorder did not vary by opioid use among servicemembers with alcohol use disorder diagnosis. Conclusions: The findings of the study suggest that the incidence of alcohol use disorder was higher among injured servicemembers with persistent opioid prescription use than among those without opioid use. If replicated in prospective studies, the findings highlight the need for clinicians to consider the current and history of alcohol use of patients in initiating treatment involving opioids.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)904-914
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


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