Civilian Stress Linked To Problem Drinking In Military

Magdalena Cerdá, DrPH MPH Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology Mailman School of Public Health Columbia University New York, NY Interview with:
Magdalena Cerdá, DrPH MPH
Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology
Mailman School of Public Health
Columbia University
New York, NY 10032-3727

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Cerdá: We evaluated 1,095 Ohio National Guard soldiers, who had primarily served in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2008 and 2009 to determine the effect of civilian stressors and deployment-related traumatic events and stressors on post-deployment alcohol use disorder.

Participants were interviewed three times over 3 years about alcohol use disorder, exposure to deployment-related traumatic events like land mines, vehicle crashes, taking enemy fire, and witnessing casualties, and about experiences of civilian life setbacks since returning from duty, including job loss, legal problems, divorce, and serious financial and legal problems.

We found that having at least one civilian stressor or a reported incident of sexual harassment during deployment raised the odds of alcohol use disorders. In contrast, combat-related traumatic events were only marginally associated with alcohol problems.

Medical Research: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Cerdá: We found that the effect of the stressors was restricted to cases of new-onset alcohol use disorders, and wasn’t seen among those with a history of problem drinking.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Cerdá: To prevent new cases of alcohol use disorders among returning military personnel, concerted efforts need to be made to address daily civilian difficulties associated with reintegration into civilian life.

When soldiers who have been recently deployed come into the clinic, it is important to ask about experiences of current daily stressors since they have returned home, such as lack of health insurance and problems with their families. These kinds of daily life difficulties experienced after deployment can have a long-term impact on mental health issues such as alcohol use disorder.

Clinicians tend to be very focused on the traumatic aspects of combat and while these are important, daily stressors may even be more important for alcohol disorders.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Cerdá: We examined the impact of daily civilian stressors on alcohol use problems among National Guard soldiers. Future studies should examine whether the same findings are observed in the active component of the military. There is also a serious need for studies that evaluate the effectiveness of targeted interventions to help soldiers handle stressful life events without experiencing substance use problems or other types of mental illness.

Civilian Stressors Associated with Alcohol Use Disorders in the National Guard
Cerdá, Magdalena et al.
American Journal of Preventive Medicine



Last Updated on July 31, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD