In the United States, reservists typically serve one weekend a month and 2 weeks a year to keep their fighting skills sharp. In the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, reservists made up about 30-40% of the U.S. armed forces.
For nearly two weeks, the Russian and Ukrainian armies have been fighting in Eastern Europe. For the soldiers who participate in the fighting, these battles will leave their mark. Several studies, including US ones, have drawn attention to the post-traumatic stress that soldiers experience after a mission. They are also at high risk for addiction, according to recent research published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
U.S. soldiers that served in Iraq
Alcohol abuse among service members of the military is common, according to researchers from the Veterans Research Center at the University of Utah. It allows them to cope with negative emotions during military deployments. But when they return, this behavior continues. “Mission-related events, such as direct combat and trauma, can cause great personal discomfort, a ‘moral injury’ that requires some form of self-soothing, such as excessive alcohol consumption,” explains James Griffith, author of the study. To better understand the problem, he relied on the responses of soldiers of the Army National Reserve Guard returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom, which took place between 2003 and 2011. In total, the scientist analyzed data from more than 4,500 reservists. The anonymized survey included 80 questions about alcohol and drug use, as well as other aspects of the soldiers’ lives, such as criminal behavior, interpersonal relationships, social support, and symptoms of psychological distress.
Exposure to combat as a determining factor
For comparison, James Griffith used the responses of non-mobilized reservists in the field. Overall, recently returned National Guard soldiers were more likely to drink alcohol excessively than non-mobilized reservists: 29.9% versus 24.1% for heavy drinking and 33.9% versus 31.8% for binge drinking. According to the U.S. researcher, the largest effect was due to exposure to combat conditions during deployment, which was associated with higher alcohol consumption. Moreover, the risk is not the same according to the type of soldier: reservists are more vulnerable than ordinary soldiers. After their return, reservists resume their part-time military service, civilian life, and work,” said the researcher. Unlike active-duty soldiers, reservists typically do not live near military installations to receive medical care. And many are not eligible for military health care. In short, they are more isolated and at greater risk for alcohol abuse. The author of this study believes that the risk of alcoholism in reservists returning from the front should be carefully evaluated.