Pregnancy, Babies, Parenting News & Tips

Soldiers Who Kill in Combat Less Likely to Abuse Alcohol

By American University / Jun 10, 2014 12:29 PM EDT
  • Are soldiers mentally ill before even enlisting?
  • (Photo : Flickr/DVIDSHUB) Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. soldiers are mentally ill before enlisting in the Army, according to a new study.

It's no secret that combat experiences are highly stressful and can contribute to instances of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression among soldiers post-deployment. It also comes as no surprise that many soldiers afflicted with these conditions abuse alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate.

Like Us on Facebook

But new research coauthored by Cristel Russell, an associate professor of marketing with American University's Kogod School of Business, and researchers with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research finds that the most traumatic of all combat experiences, killing, is less likely to lead to alcohol abuse.

The study, titled "Changes in Alcohol Use after Traumatic Experiences: The Impact of Combat on Army National Guardsmen" and published in the June issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, runs contrary to previous research.

"We were very surprised by the findings. Most previous research supported the prediction that more traumatic experiences would lead to more negative health outcomes, such as alcohol abuse," said Russell. "We found the opposite -that the most traumatic experiences of killing in combat actually led to a decrease in alcohol abuse post-deployment."

Mortality Salience

Why would killing in combat, thought to be one of the most difficult stressors, cause soldiers to become less likely to abuse alcohol? Russell and her colleagues believe that killing experiences may cause soldiers to have an increased sense of mortality and vulnerability that triggers a focus on self-preservation, which manifests itself in reduced high-risk alcohol consumption.

"We reason that a possible explanation may be that soldiers who experience killing during combat become more aware of their own vulnerability to death. 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."

Comparing Pre-and-Post Deployment Data

The study is also one of the first to compare pre-and post- deployment data. Russell and her colleagues used this approach to better identify the associations between different types of combat experiences and changes in alcohol consumption.

For the study, Russell and her fellow researchers surveyed 1,397 members of an Army National Guard Infantry Brigade Combat Team three months before and three months after their deployment to Iraq in 2005-2006. Members of the unit completed anonymous surveys regarding behavioral health and alcohol use and, in the post-survey, the combat experiences they had during deployment.

Aside from the stunning revelation that soldiers who kill in combat are less likely to abuse alcohol post-deployment, survey results revealed that the prevalence of alcohol use increased from 70.8% pre-deployment to 80.5% post-deployment and that alcohol misuse more than doubled, increasing from 8.51% before deployment to 19.15% after deployment.

Next Steps

This study acknowledges that future research is needed on this complex topic. Russell and her colleagues plan to explore the influence mortality salience has on soldiers who have killed while in combat in further detail.

"It is important for healthcare providers and researchers to better 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," said Russell. "Building on these findings, future research should take into account the degree to which individuals are equipped to deal with stressful situations and assess how coping strategies may affect their behavioral response to potentially traumatic events. There may be ways to promote coping pre- or post-traumatic experiences."

Provided by the American University
Featured Video : Never Leave Your Child Alone in the Car: Parents Urged to Take Heat Stroke Seriously Before it's too late

Antibiotics in infancy may be linked to childhood obesity: study

Kids who receive several rounds of antibiotics before age two may be at an increased risk of being overweight by age five, suggests a new study.

Read More »

U.S. military to quickly ramp up Ebola mission in Liberia

A Doctors Without Borders health worker takes off his protective gear under the surveillance of a colleague at a treatment facility for Ebola victims in Monrovia September 29, 2014.

Read More »

World must do more to battle Ebola in West Africa: Obama

1 of 2. Health workers surround an Ebola patient who escaped from quarantine from Monrovia's Elwa hospital, in the centre of Paynesville in this still image taken from a September 1, 2014 video.

Read More »

Health benefits of parkrun stretch well beyond the physical

Participants take part in a parkrun event at Bushy Park in London August 2, 2014.

Read More »

Money talks: Obamacare initiative makes headway in Republican states

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this October 2, 2013 photo illustration.

Read More »

Doctor calls for blood donations to treat Liberian Ebola victims

1 of 2. Health workers surround an Ebola patient who escaped from quarantine from Monrovia's Elwa hospital, in the centre of Paynesville in this still image taken from a September 1, 2014 video.

Read More »

U.S. hospitals unprepared to handle Ebola waste

1 of 3. An isolation room at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta is shown in this undated file handout photo courtesy of Emory Hospital.

Read More »

Sierra Leone wraps up three-day Ebola lockdown

An empty street is seen at the start of a three-day national lockdown in Freetown September 19, 2014.

Read More »

Cerner and Athenahealth say integrating with Apple's mobile health service

The Apple logo is pictured at a retail store in the Marina neighborhood in San Francisco, California April 23, 2014.

Read More »

White House calls for task force to tackle antibiotic-resistant bugs

A medical technician prepares samples in the specimen set-up area of the Vanderbilt Clinical Microbiology Lab in Nashville, Tennessee on October 19, 2012.

Read More »

U.N. to deploy Ebola mission as death toll reaches 2,630

1 of 3. Health workers remove the body of Prince Nyentee, a 29-year-old man whom local residents said died of Ebola virus in Monrovia September 11, 2014.

Read More »

IMF says Ebola hits economic growth in West Africa

A fan of Ivory coast holds a sign with a message against Ebola during the 2015 African Nations Cup qualifying soccer match between Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone at the Felix Houphouet Boigny stadium in Abidjan September 6, 2014.

Read More »

Real Time Analytics