Health Team

Study: Soldiers returning from combat suffer alcohol problems

Posted August 12, 2008 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated August 12, 2008 11:00 p.m. EDT

Troops returning from war often have to deal with a number of serious health problems. A new study found heavy drinking is a problem, especially among soldiers returning from combat.

“We saw an increased risk in newly reported, heavy, weekly drinking, newly reported binge drinking and newly reported alcohol-related problems,” said Isabel Jacobsen, a Department of Defense researcher.

Researchers analyzed data from questionnaires completed by more than 48,000 servicemen and servicewomen before and after deployment from 2001 to 2006.

“Our findings showed that the individuals who deployed and reported combat exposures were at increased risk for newly reported alcohol behaviors,” Jacobsen said.

Reserve and National Guard personnel who are sent to combat showed the most increased risk, compared with non-deployed personnel.

The study found that they are about 50 percent more likely to experience recent, heavy, weekly drinking. That's more than 14 drinks per week for men and seven drinks for women.

Just as many report recent binge drinking – having five or more drinks per day on occasion.

“Our goal was to give answers to the leadership and let them take these answers and refine our policy and prevention strategies,” said researcher Tyler Smith.

The study appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers did not find the same drinking patterns among deployed service members who were not in combat.

Women service members were more likely to experience new, heavy, weekly drinking than men. Younger service members, born after 1980, were at higher risk for newly reported binge drinking.

Researchers said their findings indicate that Marines experienced the highest prevalence for all alcohol problems looked at in the study.

Active duty personnel did not appear to be at an increased risk for alcohol-related problems, even when exposed to combat.