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Alcohol Abuse More Common among Soldiers than Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

A new study found that alcohol abuse and depression are more common among UK soldiers than is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study, published in the open access journal BMC Psychiatry, also found that reservists remain at special risk of operational stress injury.

Since the beginning of the Iraq conflict, more than 100,000 UK Service personnel have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. These personnel are at increased risk of operational stress injury, such as mental health problems. However, a detailed clinical picture of their specific health needs has previously been lacking in the UK.

Science Daily reports that a study conducted by Dr. Amy Iversen and colleagues from the King's Centre for Military Health Research and the Academic Centre for Defence Mental Health, Institute of Psychiatry, UK, reports that alcohol abuse is the most common mental health disorder amongst UK Service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, with disorders such as depression and anxiety being second most common.

"Although our perception is that PTSD symptoms are the main source of psychiatric illness in Service personnel, alcohol misuse and depressive disorders are actually much more common. Prevention and intervention in these areas should be high priority," said Dr. Iversen.

The London-based team set out to assess the prevalence and risk factors for common mental health disorders and PTSD amongst the UK military, as well as to compare the data with that from US forces. A total of 821 participants undertook a structured telephone interview, which included the Patient Health Questionnaire.

The team found that the prevalence of all common mental disorders was 27.2%, and PTSD symptoms were 4.8%. There were no substantial differences in the prevalence of PTSD symptoms between US and UK troops deployed to Iraq, which had been previously found.

In UK troops, the most common diagnoses were alcohol abuse (18.0%) and depression/anxiety (13.5%). The data also indicated that reservists who deployed to Iraq are at greater risk of psychiatric injury than regular personnel, thus it is important to provide enhanced assistance to reservists in the UK.

Dr. Iversen concludes, "This research has helped build a detailed picture of the specific heath needs of the UK military. These data should be particularly valuable for health service planners, providers, and policy makers."

Posted on November 9th, 2009
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

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