National guardsmen face a high risk of developing alcohol abuse problems following deployment

February 16, 2012, Columbia University

Soldiers in the National Guard with no history of alcohol abuse are at significant risk of developing alcohol-related problems during and after deployment, according to a new study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal. Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and colleagues at three other institutions found that the soldiers at greatest risk of developing alcohol-related problems also experienced depression and/or PTSD during or after deployment.

Alcohol-related behaviors are common among the military, yet few studies have looked at how issues like PTSD and contribute to the risk for abuse during or following their service. The is even greater for army guard soldiers.

The researchers based their findings on data collected between June 2008 and February 2009 from 963 soldiers of the Ohio Army National Guard and who said they had never abused alcohol prior to active duty. The investigators found that 113 (11.7%) of the soldiers reported disorder that first occurred during or post deployment.

The 113 respondents were also screened for depression and PTSD based on standard criteria from the (DSM-IV). Among this group, 35 (31%) also reported depression, 23 (20.4%) reported PTSD, and 15 (13.3%) reported both . Interestingly, the study shows that alcohol abuse was uncommon among the small number of participants who had a history of depression or PTSD prior to their deployment.

The soldiers at risk for new onset alcohol abuse were mostly male (97%), less than 35 years of age (74%), and single (45%). The majority had been deployed only once and most recently to a conflict setting.

"A novel finding of our study is that developing depression or PTSD during or after deployment were strong risk factors for having during the same time period," said Brandon Marshall, PhD, of the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia's and lead author of the study. Because new onset alcohol abuse was most common among service members experiencing depression and PTSD, one possible explanation is that soldiers who experienced depression or self-medicate with alcohol to cope with negative feelings and the stress of deployment.

These findings have important implications for intervention and policy, according to Dr. Marshall and colleagues. Historically, few active soldiers seek treatment services for alcohol abuse, mainly because information is non-confidential and may be perceived as having negative career consequences. "The high prevalence of alcohol abuse during and after deployment observed here suggests that policies that promote improved access to care and confidentiality merit strong consideration," noted Dr. Marshall.

Previous studies have found that National Guard are more likely to engage in alcohol-related behavior compared to active army personnel. They are also less likely to enter substance abuse treatment after they return from active duty. "These findings indicate the urgent need to evaluate the availability and uptake of alcohol treatment interventions for this population," noted Sandro Galea, MD, DrPH, chair of the Mailman School Department of Epidemiology and senior author.

The investigators caution that the timing of new onset alcohol abuse in relation to a psychiatric disorder was self-reported. They also note that there were few women included in the study.

Explore further: Letters from home may help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder in happily married soldiers

Related Stories

Letters from home may help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder in happily married soldiers

June 3, 2011
A new study from the Journal of Traumatic Stress finds that for active-duty male soldiers in the U.S. Army who are happily married, communicating frequently with one's spouse through letters and emails during deployment may ...

Recommended for you

Male contraceptive compound stops sperm without affecting hormones

April 20, 2018
A new study published today in the journal PLOS ONE details how a compound called EP055 binds to sperm proteins to significantly slow the overall mobility of the sperm without affecting hormones, making EP055 a potential ...

New research suggests possible link between sudden infant death syndrome and air pollution

April 20, 2018
A study led by the University of Birmingham suggests a possible association between exposure to certain pollutants and an increased risk of so-called 'cot death'.

A dose of empathy may support patients in pain

April 20, 2018
Research published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggests that empathic, positive messages from doctors may be of small benefit to patients suffering from pain, and improve their satisfaction about the care ...

For heavy lifting, use exoskeletons with caution

April 20, 2018
You can wear an exoskeleton, but it won't turn you into a superhero.

New device to help patients with rare disease access life-saving treatment

April 19, 2018
Patients with a rare medical condition can receive life-saving treatment at the touch of a button thanks to a new device developed by scientists.

Age affects how we predict and respond to stress at home

April 19, 2018
A recent study finds that older adults are better than younger adults at anticipating stressful events at home - but older adults are not as good at using those predictions to reduce the adverse impacts of the stress.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.