New Study Finds Killing Doesn't Cause Alcoholism Increase In Combat Veterans

By McCarton Ackerman 06/12/14

In a surprising revelation, a new study conducted by Walter Reed found that even gruesome combat situations had a minimal impact on alcohol abuse.

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Experiences in combat are commonly linked to post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism among soldiers returning home from war, but a new study has found that the most gruesome form of combat actually has minimal impact on future addiction issues.

The project conducted by researchers with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and Cristel Russell, an associate professor of marketing with American University’s Kogod School of Business, was published in this month’s issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Nearly 1,400 members of an Army National Guard Infantry Brigade Combat Team deployed to Iraq between 2005-06 were surveyed both three months before and three months after their deployment.

Russell noted in his findings that “previous research supported the prediction that more traumatic experiences would lead to more negative health outcomes, such as alcohol abuse,” but the researchers concluded after analyzing the data that “the most traumatic experiences of killing in combat actually led to a decrease in alcohol abuse post-deployment.” He hypothesized that the exposure to death and consequently becoming more aware of their own mortality affected the decision making of the soldiers.

“Mortality salience is known to have effects on decisions that people make including, in our case, the decision to not take risks and abuse alcohol, presumably to live longer,” said Russell. “This is a post hoc explanation and our future research is going to try and explore this intriguing explanation further.”

However, the drinking habits among the soldiers overall increased drastically after their time in Iraq. Alcohol misuse increased from 8.51% pre-deployment to 19.15% post-deployment, while alcohol use increased from 70.8% to 80.5%. Russell intends to conduct future research on coping strategies related to traumatic movements, but noted that it’s important for health care providers in the short-term to “understand and account for the fact that traumatic events do not necessarily result in a negative outcome and that positive outcomes can in fact be born from traumatic events.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.