Study finds alcohol abuse a problem in UK forces

Thu May 13, 2010 4:21am EDT
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - British troops in Afghanistan or Iraq are far more likely to become alcohol abusers back home than fellow troops, but levels of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are stable, psychiatrists said on Thursday.

A large study by doctors from King's College London found that rates of PTSD among British armed forces were stable at around 4 percent, but there were higher rates of common mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, and of alcohol misuse.

"Our view is that alcohol misuse is actually a greater problem for the armed forces than PTSD," said Simon Wessely of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's, who led the study.

The researchers noted that studies in the United States had found high levels PTSD among veterans returning from active service, and said those findings had led some to predict Britain too would suffer a "tidal wave" of mental health problems.

PTSD can stem from wartime trauma such as being wounded or seeing others hurt or killed. An estimated 180,000 troops have served in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001.

The British study, published in the Lancet medical journal, used data from almost 10,000 UK troops. It was funded by the Ministry of Defense, but the researchers stressed that ministers had no other involvement in the work.

Around 4 percent suffered PTSD, 20 percent had symptoms of common mental disorders which would not normally need medical attention, and 13 percent were misusing alcohol, it found.

But troops who had been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan were 22 percent more likely to abuse alcohol than those who had not.   Continued...