July 31, 2014
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Alcohol disorders among National Guardsmen linked to stress at home

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National Guard members returning from deployment are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder if faced with civilian life setbacks, regardless of traumatic experiences during deployment, according to recent study findings.

Magdalena Cerdá, DrPH, MPH, assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at the Columbia University School of Public Health, and colleagues evaluated 1,095 Ohio National Guardsmen, who had primarily served in Iraq and Afghanistan from June 2008 to February 2009, to determine the effect of civilian stressor and deployment-related traumatic events and stressors on post-deployment alcohol use. Participants were interviewed three times in 3 years about their alcohol use, post-deployment traumatic events and stressors and everyday stress since returning home.

“Guardsmen who return home need help finding jobs, rebuilding their marriages and families, and reintegrating into their communities,” Karestan Koenen, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said in a press release. “Too many of our warriors fall through the cracks in our system when they return home. This is particularly true of guardsmen who do not have the same access to services as regular military personnel. We need to support our soldiers on the home front just as we do in the war zone.”

During the most recent deployment, combat-related traumatic events were the most commonly reported (59.8%), followed by civilian stressors (35.9%) and sexual harassment (17%). Alcohol use disorders were reported the most at the first interview (13.2%), followed by the second (7.1%) and third (5.2%) interviews.

Higher odds of alcohol use disorders were associated with at least one civilian stressor and sexual harassment, whereas combat-related and post-battle traumatic events were marginally associated with alcohol use disorders.

“Exposure to the traumatic event itself has an important effect on mental health in the short term, but what defines long-term mental health problems is having to deal with a lot of daily life difficulties that arise in the aftermath — when soldiers come home,” Cerdá said in the release. “The more traumatic events soldiers are exposed to during and after combat, the more problems they are likely to have in their daily life — in their relationships, in their jobs — when they come home. These problems can, in turn, aggravate mental health issues, such as problems with alcohol that arise during and after deployment.”

Disclosure: The study was funded in part by the Department of Defense, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Mental Health. The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

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