Soldiers deployed to the world’s hotspots face an increased risk of stress-related alcohol abuse during and after service, according to a new study of National Guardsmen.
Even soldiers with no history of alcohol abuse are at significant risk of developing alcohol-related problems during and after deployment, probably in response to depression and/or post traumatic-stress disorder, Columbia University researchers have found.
The new study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, was based on an analysis of 963 members of the Ohio Army National Guard between June 2008 and February 2009. The soldiers said they had never abused alcohol prior to active duty.
Investigators found that 113 – nearly 12 percent -- of the soldiers reported alcohol abuse problems that first occurred during or after deployment. Researchers found 35 (nearly one-third) of the 113 soldiers also reported depression, 23 (more than one-fifth) reported PTSD and 15 (more than 13 percent) reported both conditions.
Nearly all of respondents with alcohol abuse problems were male (97 percent), less than 35 years of age (74 percent) and single (45 percent).
Lead researcher Dr. Brandon Marshall, of the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia's Mailman School, said the findings suggest some soldiers who experience depression or PTSD self-medicate with alcohol to cope with the stress of deployment.
Researchers noted 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," Marshall said.
In addition to the Columbia researchers, co-authors included investigators at the University of Michigan, University of Toledo College of Medicine and Case Western Reserve University. The study was partly funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.