us troops, alcohol abuse, depression
U.S. Air Force, Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey/AP

Alcohol Abuse Another Obstacle for Returning Troops

August 13, 2008 02:54 PM
by Christopher Coats
A recent study found that National Guard and Reserve troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan were more likely to develop drinking problems after returning home.

The Psychological Challenges of Warfare

Citing an inadequate level of preparation and training to deal with combat stress, the study found that a large number of soldiers developed “binge drinking” habits following their return home.

Unable to cope with memories of violence and loss witnessed while they were deployed, many soldiers turn to alcohol and drugs to ease their pain. Earlier studies have found a direct correlation between individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects many returning soldiers to some degree, and substance abuse.

Part of the Millennium Cohort Study, an expansive series of examinations into the long-term health effects of military life and combat launched in 2001, the recent study marks another health problem for returning soldiers to overcome.

Although the study focused on the obstacles faced by National Guard and Reserve soldiers, the list of post-traumatic challenges faced by all returning service men and women has continued to grow since the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

Much attention has centered on post-traumatic stress disorder complications, including depression, substance abuse, excessive anger and a general difficulty readapting to civilian life.
These challenges, resulting in more than 22,000 returned soldiers seeking help on a suicide hotline, have stretched the military’s mental health services to the limit.

Since 2001, government and military officials have strained to understand how they can properly tend to the physical and emotional needs of those returning from a war zone. In addition to the more traditional approaches of counseling and support groups, researchers have also developed a digital means of dealing with combat stress by creating a virtual experience to recreate the pressure of the war zone experience.

Recreating the sights and sounds of the environment that brought them to seek help in the first place, the digital experience allows returning soldiers to confront and assess traumatic events.

Homelessness Among War Veterans

While several organizations have launched efforts to help veterans deal with the stress of returning from combat, some have suggested that they fall short of dealing with what could turn into a “tsunami” of emotional challenges and homelessness. Citing a study that found that one in four homeless people are veterans, Jon Soltz points to what he sees as an inadequate approach to soldiers seeking mental help. Soltz argues that narrow definitions of PTSD keep many veterans from receiving the help that they need.

Background: The long-term cost of war



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