National Guard Deployment May Sometimes Trigger Alcohol Abuse

Soldiers with post-traumatic stress, depression might self-medicate, research suggests

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MONDAY, Feb. 20 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. National Guard soldiers have a high risk of developing alcohol abuse during and after deployment, and this risk is associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, researchers say.

The new study included 963 members of the Ohio Army National Guard who said they never abused alcohol prior to active duty. Between June 2008 and February 2009, nearly 12 percent -- 113 of the soldiers -- reported alcohol abuse disorder that first occurred during or after deployment.

Among these soldiers, 35 reported depression (31 percent), 23 reported post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD (20 percent), and 15 reported both conditions (13 percent) during the follow-up period.

Surprisingly, alcohol abuse was uncommon among the small number of soldiers who had a history of PTSD or depression before deployment, according to the researchers.

The study authors, led by Brandon Marshall of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, found that soldiers at risk for new-onset alcohol abuse were mostly male (97 percent) and younger than age 35 (74 percent). Most of them had been deployed only once and most recently to a conflict zone.

The study was released online Feb. 16 in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

"A novel finding of our study is that developing depression or PTSD during or after deployment were strong risk factors for having alcohol problems during the same time period," Marshall said in a university news release.

Soldiers who develop depression or PTSD may self-medicate with alcohol to cope with negative feelings and the stress of deployment, he suggested.

However, while the study uncovered an association between deployment and alcohol abuse, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

"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," Marshall concluded.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about alcohol abuse.

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