Alcohol Problems as a Risk Factor for Postdisaster Depressed Mood Among U.S. Veterans

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Alcohol problems may impede adaptive, proactive responses to disaster-related injury and loss, thus prolonging the adverse impact of disasters on mental health. Previous work suggests that veterans of the U.S. armed forces have a relatively high prevalence of alcohol misuse and other psychiatric disorders. This is the first study to estimate the impact of predisaster alcohol problems on postdisaster depressed mood among veterans, using data that were collected before and after the 1994 Northridge, CA, earthquake. The authors assessed the impact of alcohol problems on postdisaster depressed mood in an existing clinical cohort of veterans who experienced the 6.7-magnitude earthquake that struck Northridge in January 1994. One to 3 months after the disaster, interviewers contacted participants by telephone to administer a follow-up questionnaire based on a survey that had been done preearthquake. Postearthquake data were obtained on 1,144 male veterans for whom there were preearthquake data. We tested a predictive path model of the relationships between latent variables for predisaster alcohol problems, functional limitations, and depressed mood on latent variables representing postdisaster “quake impact” and depressive mood. Results showed that veterans who had more alcohol problems before the earthquake experienced more earthquake-related harms and severely depressed mood after the earthquake, compared with those who had fewer alcohol problems. Programs serving veterans with a high prevalence of alcohol problems should consider designing disaster response protocols to locate and assist these patients in the aftermath of disasters.

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