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Does Reducing Drinking in Patients with Unhealthy Alcohol Use Improve Pain Interference, Use of Other Substances, and Psychiatric Symptoms?

Caniglia EC, Stevens ER, Khan M, Young KE, Ban K, Marshall BDL, Chichetto NE, Gaither JR, Crystal S, Edelman EJ, Fiellin DA, Gordon AJ, Bryant KJ, Tate J, Justice AC, Braithwaite RS. Does Reducing Drinking in Patients with Unhealthy Alcohol Use Improve Pain Interference, Use of Other Substances, and Psychiatric Symptoms? Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research. 2020 Nov 1; 44(11):2257-2265.

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BACKGROUND: We aimed to investigate the impact of reducing drinking in patients with unhealthy alcohol use on improvement of chronic pain interference, substance use, and psychiatric symptoms. METHODS: We analyzed longitudinal data from 2003 to 2015 in the Veterans Aging Cohort Study, a prospective, multisite observational study of US veterans, by emulating a hypothetical randomized trial (a target trial). Alcohol use was assessed using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) questionnaire, and outcome conditions were assessed via validated survey items. Individuals were followed from the first time their AUDIT score was  =  8 (baseline), a threshold consistent with unhealthy alcohol use. We compared individuals who reduced drinking (AUDIT  <  8) at the next follow-up visit with individuals who did not (AUDIT  =  8). We fit separate logistic regression models to estimate odds ratios for improvement of each condition 2 years postbaseline among individuals who had that condition at baseline: moderate or severe pain interference symptoms, tobacco smoking, cannabis use, cocaine use, depressive symptoms, and anxiety symptoms. Inverse probability weighting was used to account for potential selection bias and confounding. RESULTS: Adjusted 2-year odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) for associations between reducing drinking and improvement or resolution of each condition were as follows: 1.49 (0.91, 2.42) for pain interference symptoms, 1.57 (0.93, 2.63) for tobacco smoking, 1.65 (0.92, 2.95) for cannabis use, 1.83 (1.03, 3.27) for cocaine use, 1.11 (0.64, 1.92) for depressive symptoms, and 1.33 (0.80, 2.22) for anxiety symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: We found some evidence for improvement of pain interference symptoms and substance use after reducing drinking among US veterans with unhealthy alcohol use, but confidence intervals were wide.

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