Reserve, National Guard at higher risk of alcohol-related problems after returning from combat

Aug 12, 2008

Younger service members and Reserve and National Guard combat personnel returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are at increased risk of new-onset heavy drinking, binge drinking and other alcohol-related problems, according to a study in the August 13 issue of JAMA, a theme issue on violence and human rights.

Substance abuse is strongly associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological disorders that may occur after stressful and traumatic events, such as those connected with war. Because alcohol use may serve as a coping mechanism after traumatic events, it is plausible that deployment is associated with increased rates of alcohol consumption or problem drinking, according to background information in the article.

High rates of alcohol misuse after deployment have been reported among personnel returning from past conflicts, but there is little information regarding alcohol misuse after return from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Isabel G. Jacobson, M.P.H., of the Naval Health Research Center, San Diego, and colleagues examined whether military deployment to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is associated with new-onset or changes in alcohol consumption, binge drinking behavior and other alcohol-related problems. Data were derived from questionnaires completed by participants at the beginning (baseline) of the study (July 2001 to June 2003; n = 77,047) and follow-up (June 2004 to February 2006; n = 55,021). After the researchers applied exclusion criteria, the analyses included 48,481 participants (active duty, n = 26,613; Reserve or National Guard, n = 21,868). Of these, 5,510 deployed with combat exposures, 5,661 deployed without combat exposures, and 37,310 did not deploy.

The researchers found that among Reserve or National Guard personnel who deployed with combat exposures the rate of new-onset heavy weekly drinking was 8.8 percent; the rate for new-onset binge drinking was 25.6 percent; and for new-onset alcohol-related problems, 7.1 percent. Among active-duty personnel, new-onset rates were 6.0 percent, 26.6 percent, and 4.8 percent, respectively. Among Reserve/Guard personnel, deployment with combat exposures was associated with increased odds of new onset of all three drinking outcomes compared with nondeployed personnel, with heavy weekly drinking (63 percent) and alcohol-related problems (63 percent) showing the strongest association.

Among active-duty personnel, those deployed with combat exposures were at increased odds (31 percent) of new-onset binge drinking at follow-up. Women were 1.2 times more likely to report new-onset heavy weekly drinking, whereas they were significantly less likely to report new-onset or changes in binge drinking or alcohol-related problems. Those born after 1980 were at 6.7 times increased odds of new-onset binge drinking and 4.7 times increased odds of new-onset alcohol-related problems. Those with PTSD and depression were at increased odds of new-onset and continued alcohol-related problems at follow-up.

"These results are the first to prospectively quantify changes in alcohol use in relation to recent combat deployments. Interventions should focus on at-risk groups, including Reserve/Guard personnel, younger individuals, and those with previous or existing mental health disorders. Further prospective analyses using … data [from this study group] will evaluate timing, duration, and [co-existing illnesses] of alcohol misuse and other-alcohol related problems, better defining the long-term effect of military combat deployments on these important health outcomes," the authors conclude.

Source: JAMA and Archives Journals

Explore further: Concerns raised about variable performance of some UK personal use breathalyzers

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fingers pointed as climate talks deadlock

4 hours ago

Accusations flew at deadlocked UN climate talks in Lima on Saturday, as the United States warned that failure to compromise could doom the 22-year-old global forum.

Fun cryptography app pleases students and teachers

14 hours ago

Up on Google Play this week is Cryptoy...something that you might want to check out if you or someone you know wishes entry into the world of cryptography via an educational and fun app. You learn more about ciphers and keys; you ...

Recommended for you

The hunt for botanicals

22 hours ago

Herbal medicine can be a double-edged sword and should be more rigorously investigated for both its beneficial and harmful effects, say researchers writing in a special supplement of Science.

Mozambique decriminalises abortion to stem maternal deaths

23 hours ago

Mozambique has passed a law permitting women to terminate unwanted pregnancies under specified conditions, a move hailed by activists in a country where clandestine abortions account for a large number of maternal deaths.

Infertility, surrogacy in India

23 hours ago

Infertility is a growing problem worldwide. A World Health Organization report estimates that 60-to-80 million couples worldwide currently suffer from infertility.

User comments : 0

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.