Friday, September 12, 2008

HEALTH NEWS: Returning Veterans At Higher Risk For Alcoholism And Stress Disorder

(previously published here at

New research supports ongoing observations that military deployment into combat zones puts young men and women at greater risk of developing mental health issues, including post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) and heavy drinking.

The two studies were presented in a themed issue on violence and human rights by the Journal of the American Medical Association, as was a study that found suicide rates for returning combat veterans were no higher than rates for the general U.S. population.

In the study on alcohol abuse, returning service members who had seen combat were 63 percent more likely to experience new-onset heavy and binge drinking than those who were in non-combat areas.

The rates for new-onset heavy weekly drinking was 8.8 percent, with it being 25.6 percent for binge drinking, and 7.1 percent for other alcohol-related problems.

Binge drinking rates were 31 percent higher for combat veterans than for those not exposed to the same level of violence.

The results also showed a higher risk for younger service members compared to older personnel, and a higher incidence rate for Reserve or National Guard members compared to members in other military branches.

Surveys were taken of 48,400 military personnel before and after assumed deployment (between 2001-2003 and again in 2004-2006), setting a pre-deployment precedent for drinking levels and alcohol-related issues. Only 5,500 were actually deployed into combat zones, with 5,661 deployed into non-combat areas. The rest remained on active duty in the Reserve or National Guard.

The researchers suggested in their report that alcohol use likely serves as a coping mechanism for returning soldiers, as it does for individuals in the general populace. To combat this unhealthy response, the building and provision of familiar and stable support networks of trusted family, friends or fellow veterans is best - anywhere that doesn't involve meeting at a bar.

A separate study on excess alcohol intake lists additional dangers as including a greater chance of developing metabolic syndrome, which includes obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

This study by the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion defines excess drinking as more than two drinks daily for men and one drink a day for women, as well as binge drinking.

In the U.S., 58 percent of drinkers fall into this "excess" category and a majority had engaged in at least one instance of binge drinking, according to a recent survey cited by the researchers in their report.

Researchers suggest that public health messages emphasize the cardiometabolic risk of excess drinking. This study will be published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

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