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Study: Alcohol Use Lower Among Combat Vets Who Have Killed

June 22, 2014

A new Army study concludes that while combat experience tends to drive veterans to drink, those who have actually killed an enemy tend to drink significantly less.

Chicago beer brewed by veterans

(Photo credit DVIDS)

Researchers are not sure why.

New research by Army scientists appears to confirm what has been long-recognized as an unfortunate consequence of combat deployment: that troops drink more after going to war.

But the latest study of more than 1,300 National Guard members adds an unusual twist. According to the research, alcohol misuse actually fell among troops who have killed someone in combat.

To better understand the impact of combat experience on drinking behavior, researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, American University and the Uniformed Service University of the Health Sciences surveyed members of an infantry brigade combat team before and after a deployment to Iraq in 2005 and 2006.

They found a nearly 14 percent rise in drinking among the troops and a doubling of alcohol abuse rates — from nearly 9 percent to 19 percent — among the soldiers.

But only one specific combat experience appeared to play a role in influencing alcohol use after deployment: killing. And the relationship was inverse.

“We were really surprised,” said Cristel Russell, an associate professor of marketing at American University and study co-author. “Usually, experiencing traumatic events leads to an increase in substance use. But in fact, we found quite the opposite.”

According to the study, those who killed in combat were half as likely to score positive on the alcohol abuse screening test than those who had been in combat but had not taken a life.

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