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Chen JA, Owens MD, Browne KC, Williams EC. Alcohol-related and mental health care for patients with unhealthy alcohol use and posttraumatic stress disorder in a National Veterans Affairs cohort. Journal of substance abuse treatment. 2018 Feb 1; 85:1-9.
OBJECTIVE: Unhealthy alcohol use and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) frequently co-occur. Patients with both conditions have poorer functioning and worse treatment adherence compared to those with either condition alone. Therefore, it is possible that PTSD, when co-occurring with unhealthy alcohol use, may influence receipt of evidence-based alcohol-related care and mental health care. We evaluated receipt of interventions for unhealthy alcohol use and receipt of mental health follow-up care among patients screening positive for unhealthy alcohol use with and without PTSD in a national sample from the Veterans Health Administration (VA). METHODS: National clinical and administrative data from VA's electronic medical record were used to identify all patients who screened positive for unhealthy alcohol use (AUDIT-C score = 5) between 10/1/09-5/30/13. Unadjusted and adjusted Poisson regression models were fit to estimate the relative rate and prevalence of receipt of: brief interventions (advice to reduce or abstain from drinking = 14days after positive screening), specialty addictions treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD; documented visit = 365days after positive screening), pharmacotherapy for AUD (filled prescription = 365days after positive screening), and mental health care = 14days after positive screening for patients with and without PTSD (documented with ICD-9 CM codes). In secondary analyses, we tested effect modification by both severity of unhealthy alcohol use and age. RESULTS: Among 830,825 patients who screened positive for unhealthy alcohol use, 140,388 (16.9%) had documented PTSD. Of the full sample, 71.6% received brief interventions, 10.3% received specialty AUD treatment, 3.1% received pharmacotherapy for AUD, and 24.0% received mental health care. PTSD was associated with increased likelihood of receiving all types of care. Adjusted relative rates were 1.04 (95% CI 1.03-1.05) for brief interventions, 1.06 (1.05-1.08) for specialty AUD treatment, 1.35 (1.31-1.39) for AUD pharmacotherapy, and 1.82 (1.80-1.84) for mental health care. Alcohol use severity modified effects of PTSD for specialty AUD treatment, AUD pharmacotherapy, and mental health care such that effects were maintained at lower severity but attenuated among patients with severe unhealthy alcohol use. Age modified all effects with the strength of the association between PTSD and care outcomes being strongest for younger (18-29years) and older veterans (65+ years) and weaker or non-significant for middle-aged veterans (30-44 and 45-64years). CONCLUSIONS: In this large national sample of patients with unhealthy alcohol use, PTSD was associated with increased likelihood of receiving alcohol-related and mental health care. PTSD does not appear to be a barrier to care among VA patients with unhealthy alcohol use.