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A new study has found that veterans who have had a traumatic brain injury or been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder tend to drink more than others on a daily basis.
The research conducted by the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion at Syracuse University found that veterans considered “harmed by their military service” — defined in the study as either having a TBI or mental health condition — are about twice as likely to be daily drinkers than peers who escaped injury, as well as non-veterans.
Veterans and U.S. military personnel being heavy drinkers is a regrettable stereotype, but this new study revealed that said characterization is much more complex. Past studies have shown that active-duty troops drink more days a year than workers in any other industry, and an estimated 14% of all veterans abuse alcohol.
But also, the discussion about the abuse of alcohol by veterans or military service tends to group veterans as one large, homogenous group. What this study found was that that notion is an overgeneralization and a mischaracterization of the makeup of said group.
According to Andrew London, a professor of Sociology at Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, researchers had previously discovered that veterans with TBI or mental health conditions experienced sleep disturbances at rates higher than other veterans, and wanted to see if the patterns were the same for drinking.
About their research, London reportedly said: “We found it very closely aligned to the pattern, which led us to conclude that this might be a form of self-medication, the daily drinking aspect of this.”
Through the study, the researchers concluded that veterans with mental health issues or traumatic brain injury are especially at risk because if they are medicating themselves with alcohol, they may not be seeking health treatments tailored to their needs.
On the other hand, the research also showed that veterans who had never seen combat and combat veterans who did not suffer a TBI or mental health issues were less likely to drink daily than people who had never been in the military.
In order to determine how frequently veterans consumed alcohol and if patterns emerged, researchers resorted to survey data from eight states in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
However, what the study did not note was whether daily drinking by this cohort of veterans is actually a form of self-medication, if it is related to military service, or simply a lifestyle choice.
Though many TBI cases are caused by car accidents, many more also result from falls and being struck by objects. As the name implies, a traumatic brain injury is a serious injury that interrupts normal brain functioning. The very worst TBIs may cause permanent disability or even death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1.4 million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury every year. About 235,000 of these incidents require hospitalization and 50,000 result in deaths.