Alcohol dependence is a vastly widespread mental disorder, affecting people of all ages and socioeconomic groups. The military is no exception. Alcohol dependence affects almost three times as many men as women and is more common in younger adults. In 2002 and 2003, 340,000 male veterans had co-occurring (both mental health and substance abuse) serious mental illness. The incidence of alcohol dependence peaks among individuals ages 18 to 29 and then decreases with age. Younger male veterans are more likely to have co-occurring serious mental illness and substance use disorder than older male veterans. Alcohol dependence and excessive alcohol intake are associated with multiple physical and mental health problems that carry significant health risks contributing to the death rate. Numerous studies show that the rate of alcohol and other drug use disorders are high among veterans within the VA health care system Excessive alcohol intake has direct adverse effects on the nervous and cardiovascular systems as well as the liver and has been linked to specific cancers. Alcohol dependence is associated with psychiatric health risks and an increased risk of suicide, and the children of women who drink while pregnant may be born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
Alcohol consumption and alcohol dependence increase the risk of both accidental and intentional injury. Alcohol abusers are approximately four times as likely to be hospitalized. Additionally, alcohol abuse increases the risk of readmission for new trauma. Alcohol also contributes to traffic-related injuries and deaths. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it is estimated that in 2004, there were 16, 694 traffic fatalities in alcohol related accidents. That is about 0.57 per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled. An estimated 248,000 people who were injured in accidents where alcohol was present, or about one person every two minutes. The association of alcohol consumption and subsequent injury is partly related not only to diminished coordination and balance, increased reaction time, and impaired attention, perception, and judgment at the time of injury, but it may also be related to the lingering effect of drinking (i.e. a hangover).
Alcohol also contributes to traffic-related injuries and deaths. It is estimated that in 2004, there were 16,694 traffic fatalities in alcohol-related crashes, or 0.57 per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled. That is an estimated 248,000 people who were injured in accidents when alcohol was present. That is roughly one person every two minutes. The association of alcohol consumption and subsequent injury is partly related not only to diminished coordination and balance, increased reaction time, and impaired attention, perception, and judgment at the time of injury, but it may also be related to the residual effect of drinking (i.e., hangover).
There is substantial evidence that excessive alcohol consumption causes brain damage, related neuralgic problems, increased risk in coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular disease. Heavy drinkers and people with alcohol dependence die from cirrhosis at a much higher rate than the general population. Men who drink more than four drinks a day are 7.5 times more likely to die from cirrhosis and women are 4.8 times more likely to die from cirrhosis.
Chronic excessive alcohol consumption is a strong risk factor for various types of cancer of the upper GI tract, compared with other types of cancer. Alcohol consumption is also associated with a significant increase in risk for cancers of the stomach, colon, rectum, liver, breast, and ovaries.
There is consistent and substantial links between alcohol dependence and other psychiatric conditions, especially mood and anxiety disorders, drug abuse, sleep problems, major depression, dysthymia (long-term low grade depression), mania, hypomania, panic disorder, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, personality disorders and increased risks of suicide, suicide attempts and spousal abuse.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome describes a specific syndrome of impaired neural development and physical growth and facial abnormalities that occur in the children of women who have consumed alcohol while pregnant. Many children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome experience school failure, social problems, conduct disorders, and mental health problems. The degree of fetal damage is correlated with amount of alcohol intake.
Changes in personality may result from traumatic events. These changes may be extensive, especially if the events are severe, repeated, or happen early in life. An individual, such as a Soldier returning from war, might become habitually distrustful, cynical, angry, moody or depressed. Self-esteem often drops. Alcohol and other drug consumption may increase — chemicals medicate pain.