Objective Serving military personnel are more likely to drink heavily than civilians. The aim of our study was to examine whether veterans have an increased risk of alcoholic liver disease and alcohol-related death compared with non-veterans.
Design Retrospective cohort study of 57 000 veterans resident in Scotland and 173 000 age, sex and area of residence-matched civilians, using Cox proportional hazard models to compare the risk of alcoholic liver disease and alcohol-related death overall, by sex, birth cohort, length of service and year of recruitment, adjusting for socioeconomic status.
Results Over mean 29 years follow-up, 677 (1.20%) veterans developed alcoholic liver disease compared with 2175 (1.26%) non-veterans (adjusted HR=0.91, 95% CIs 0.84 to 0.99, p=0.035). Only the 1945–1949 veterans’ birth cohort was at higher risk, unadjusted HR=1.25, 95% CIs 1.07 to 1.47, p=0.004, although their difference in risk became non-significant after adjusting for socioeconomic status, p=0.052. The pattern was similar for alcohol-related death. Veterans were less likely than non-veterans to have comorbid hepatitis C. Older age at recruitment at a time of high operational activity in the early 1970s was associated with increased risk, but longer service was not.
Conclusions Overall, veterans in Scotland had a significantly reduced risk of alcoholic liver disease or alcohol-related death compared with non-veterans, although the risk was higher in those born before 1950. Reasons for the changing pattern are likely to be complex and may reflect operational exposure, social attitudes to alcohol and the impact of recent military health promotion.
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