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Most Alcohol Use Disorders Among Disaster Survivors Is Preexisting

Posted in Alcohol Abuse

A new study from the Veterans Administration North Texas Health Care System has found that more than 80 percent of alcohol-related problems that occur following disasters were preexisting or ongoing. Dr. Carol S. North and colleagues examined a large database of survivors of 10 recent U.S. disasters, looking at pre- and post-disaster alcohol use disorders. Although previous studies have suggested that people are more likely to develop alcohol problems after disasters, a causal relationship has not been found.

The researchers found that out of 811 participants, 86 percent provided pre- and post-disaster alcohol data. Most of the participants were white and more than half were female. More than one-third of the participants were injured during the disaster, and 20 percent were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the disaster.

The researchers considered lifetime history of alcohol use and dependence to determine whether the participants had a history of alcohol use before or after the disaster, or both.

Twenty-five percent of the participants had an alcohol use disorder before the disaster, and 19 percent reported developing the disorder after the disaster. Of the 567 people without post-disaster alcohol use or dependence, only three percent developed an alcohol use disorder during the follow-up period. The rate of new alcohol disorders over the next two years was the same as the post-disaster rate.

The study found that 83 percent of people who drank after a disaster had a preexisting alcohol use disorder, while 0.3 percent developed a new alcohol use disorder. Those with a preexisting alcohol problem were four times more likely to drink after the disaster to cope with their emotions.

Dr. North, also of the University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas, said that despite other studies that suggest that alcohol use may increase after disasters, this study suggests that the increase may not directly translate into new post-disaster alcohol use disorders.

She added that it’s important to be able to distinguish between relapse and continuing or new alcohol use problems because those in recovery from alcohol use disorders tend to be more vulnerable to highly stressful events. These people should be given more attention after the disaster, as they are at a higher risk of relapse.

Sources: Join Together, Most Postdisaster Alcohol Abuse Reflects Preexisting Problem, October 12, 2010

Elsevier Global Medical News, Jeffrey S. Eisenberg, Most Alcohol Abuse After Disasters Is Pre-Existing, October 4, 2010