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British Iraq vets 'prone to alcohol abuse'


Troops sent to Iraq or Afghanistan are more likely to have alcohol problems, research found

Troops sent to Iraq or Afghanistan are more likely to have alcohol problems, research found

Troops sent to Iraq or Afghanistan are more likely to have alcohol problems, research found

British forces who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are more likely to have serious alcohol problems than other troops, according to a major new study.

The research, funded by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), showed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan did not raise the risk of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but troops sent there were more than a fifth (22%) more likely to have alcohol problems which risked their health.

Some 9,990 troops answered a questionnaire about their experiences of deployment and their health and from their responses, researchers believed a fifth (20%) showed symptoms of common mental health problems and 376 (4%) showed probable PTSD.

Overall, 13% said they were drinking alcohol in quantities defined by researchers as hazardous according to the World Health Organisation's Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (Audit), but regular soldiers who had spent time in either Iraq or Afghanistan were 22% more likely to misuse alcohol than full-time troops who had not been deployed.

The study, led by King's College London, found the prevalence of mental health disorders including anxiety and depression among UK troops remained stable between 2003 and 2009 with rates of PTSD remaining between 3-4%.

The research findings, published in medical journal The Lancet, found regular troops in combat roles were almost twice as likely as those in support roles to report signs of probable PTSD and were also more likely to develop alcohol problems.

The research report's authors included Dr Nicola Fear, of the Academic Centre for Defence Mental Health, at King's College London, and Professor Simon Wessely, of the Institute of Psychiatry, at King's College London, who said the study suggested that the mental health of the UK armed forces had not changed since their initial study in 2006 which focused on troops who had spent time in Iraq.

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"This finding, although reassuring, is also surprising because the war in Iraq turned out to be a prolonged deployment, and UK military personnel in southern Iraq began to be exposed to increased levels of combat. Many UK military personnel have now had multiple deployments to either or both operational locations, yet we noted that multiple deployments were not associated with mental health disorders.

"This finding might be partly explained by selection or the so-called healthy warrior effect, in which those who were unwell as a result of previous deployment have less chance of subsequent deployment, whereas those who are more psychologically robust have an increased chance of deployment."

An MoD spokeswoman said the ministry takes problem drinking very seriously and offers counselling and support, including early intervention programmes designed to explain the potential harm, and specialist treatment in more serious cases.

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