Troops Develop Alcohol Problems After Deployment
> 8/14/2008 12:23:41 PM

Soldiers try to cope with the stress of war in a variety of ways, from the healthy support of a therapist to the illusory help of drugs. The extent of their unhealthy coping methods is finally being revealed by the Millennium Cohort Study, a large-scale military survey that began following troops in 2000. Dr. Isabel Jacobson pulled together some of the results of the Millennium study into a revealing study published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Jacobson’s study is particularly pertinent because it is one of the first to include information about the alcohol habits of troops returning from the two most recent theaters of war, Afghanistan and Iraq. The study tested 48,481 soldiers before and after deployment. Returning soldiers showed new onsets of heavy weekly drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol-related problems at rates of 8.8%, 25.6%, and 7.1%. Clearly, experiencing war without adequate support structures significantly raises the risk of developing problematic drinking habits.

Another interesting finding of the study was that certain types of troops were at even higher risk than the already endangered average. Younger soldiers developed drinking problems at higher rates. Members of the Reserve and National Guard had more problems than their active-duty peers. This last difference is important because the recent overextension of the U.S. military has led to heavy leaning on Reserve and National Guard forces that were not prepared for long tours of duty or serious combat.

These results allow us to see the high risks of sending young and unprepared troops into combat. At the least, the military should now be more ready to monitor and provide therapy for members of the most at-risk groups.

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