Alcohol can make PTSD worse for deployed soldiers

Alcohol use disorder, defined as past-year alcohol abuse or dependence, was associated with an increase in both depression and PTSD symptoms. (Credit: iStockphoto)

Alcohol use disorder can exacerbate depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in deployed military service members—especially those in Iraq and Afghanistan, new research suggests.

Experts followed more than 1,000 National Guard service members for four years after deployment to gauge risk factors for depression and PTSD outcomes, and the effect of alcohol abuse on symptoms over time.

Researchers at Boston University School of Public Health documented four “trajectory groups” of depression among a subsample of recently deployed troops:

1. Those who were resistant to symptoms (55.8 percent)

2. Those who showed resilience, defined as experiencing a decline in previously elevated symptoms (18.7 percent)

3. Those who had a steady increase in symptoms over time (12.8 percent)

4. Those who had chronic dysfunction (12.7 percent).

The majority of soldiers in the sample also fell into the resistant or resilient categories for PTSD symptoms.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), defined as past-year alcohol abuse or dependence, was associated with an increase in both depression and PTSD symptoms, with the largest effect seen on the higher-symptom groups.

[PTSD makes ordinary moments seem terrifying]

The study, published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, also shows that being unmarried is associated with resilience to depression—which the authors say might be explained by a lack of relationship and family stress while deployed, which has been shown to contribute to depression in military populations.

Also, service members deployed to war zones in Iraq or Afghanistan were more likely to be in the higher-symptom groups, and those who reported higher numbers of lifetime stressful events were more likely to be in higher-symptom categories of depression.

The findings generally suggest that a “longitudinal perspective” is needed when examining mental health outcomes in military service members, the researchers say.

Other researchers from the University of Michigan, Case Western Reserve University, Columbia University, and the University of Toledo contributed to the work.

Source: Boston University