CHICAGO – In light of a new study in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) finding that members of the Reserves and National Guard who return from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are at an increased risk of developing drinking problems, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich is reminding Illinois Veterans and service members that help is available through the Illinois Warrior Assistance Program.
Researchers suggest that alcohol is used as a coping mechanism after traumatic events such as combat, and is a way for the service member to self-medicate rather than to receive mental health care. But refusing to seek help and abusing alcohol worsens the difficulty of the service members with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, or other mental health problems.
The Illinois Warrior Assistance Program provides confidential assistance for Illinois Veterans as they transition back to their everyday lives after serving our country through a 24-hour, toll-free helpline at 1-866-554-IWAP (4927), which is staffed by health professionals to assist Veterans, day or night. Its goal is to help service members and their families deal with the emotional and psychological challenges they may be facing, which includes services and support for substance abuse, depression and PTSD. Information can also be found at www.illinoiswarrior.com
“The effects of war remain long after our brave men and women return home to their families and friends. And we at home cannot come close to comprehending what our service members have seen in the battle zone,” said Governor Blagojevich. “But what we can do is make sure that help is available so they don’t have to turn to alcohol or drugs. The Illinois Warrior Assistance Program helps returning Veterans suffering from substance abuse problems, depression or PTSD get the confidential help they need day or night.”
The study appearing in JAMA is the first to compare Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans’ alcohol problems before and after deployment. According to the study, Reservists and National Guardsmen returning from combat had higher rates of new-onset heavy drinking than Soldiers from other military branches. Among Reserve or National Guard members who deployed with combat exposures, the rate of new-onset heavy weekly drinking was 8.8 percent; the rate for new-onset binge drinking was 25.6 percent; and 7.1 percent for new-onset alcohol-related problems. Among active-duty service members, new-onset rates were 6.0 percent, 26.6 percent, and 4.8 percent.
The study also found that younger service members had the highest risk for developing alcohol-related outcomes. Service members born after 1980 were 6.7 times more likely to develop new-onset binge drinking and 4.7 times more likely to develop new-onset alcohol-related problems. Overall, combat Veterans were 63 percent more likely to have new-onset heavy drinking than those who did not see combat.
Substance abuse is strongly linked to PTSD and other psychological disorders that result from stressful or traumatic events. Service members may believe that self-medicating with alcohol will help ease painful traumatic re-experiences, diminish anxiety and offer the hope of sleep without nightmares. Alcohol actually increases the symptoms associated with PTSD and only continues the problematic cycle of avoidance.
“In the military, you are trained to be physically, mentally and emotionally tough. But the thing that our service members need to know is that mental and psychological wounds can be just as debilitating as external, physical injuries and they need to seek help for these wounds,” said Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director L. Tammy Duckworth. “I want to urge all Veterans who are having difficulty transition back to everyday life and may be self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, to call Illinois Warrior Assistance Program.”
The Illinois Warrior Assistance Program provides confidential assistance for Illinois Veterans as they transition back to their everyday lives after serving our country. Its goal is to help service members and their families deal with the emotional and psychological challenges they may be facing. The program has three major parts:
· First, it offers a 24-hour, toll-free helpline at 1-866-554-IWAP (4927), which is staffed by health professionals to assist veterans, day or night, with any of the symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
· Second, it provides Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) screening to all interested Illinois veterans over the phone via the helpline or through the State of Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) Veteran Service Officers (VSOs).
· Third, it makes TBI screenings mandatory for all returning members of the Illinois Army National Guard and Air National Guard.
If you are a Veteran or service member suffering from symptoms associated with PTSD, or if you think someone you care about may be experiencing post-deployment stress or other combat-related emotional issues, call the Illinois Warrior Assistance Program confidential 24-hour toll-free helpline, 1-866-554-IWAP (4927) for more information and help. You can also visit www.illinoiswarrior.com for more information about the program.