WASHINGTON– Defense Department officials are assessing ways to better prepare servicemembers, particularly members of the reserve and National Guard, for the stresses of combat so they’re better able to avoid alcohol-related problems when they return home, defense officials said today. The goal, officials said, is to beef up existing strategies to address alcohol issues before and during deployments to mitigate post-deployment drinking problems.

The effort follows release of a Defense Department study that evaluated alcohol use before and after combat deployments. The study, conducted at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego and published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, revealed that a troubling number of the troops began abusing alcohol after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The study included self-reported responses from almost 50,000 participants from the active and reserve components.

Reserve and National Guard members reported higher incidents of alcohol abuse than their active-duty counterparts, even if they were not exposed to combat.

Of responders, 4.8 percent of active-duty members and 7.1 percent of reserve-component members reported the onset of alcohol-related problems after deployment. Six percent of active-duty members and 8.8 percent of reservists and Guardsmen reported that they had begun heavy weekly drinking. In addition, 26.6 percent of active-duty members and 25.6 percent in the reserve components reported post-deployment binge drinking.

The study also showed that younger servicemembers were the most likely to show continued or new problems with alcohol after deployment.

Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, the Military Health System’s deputy director for force health protection and readiness programs, said the findings appear to show servicemembers are using alcohol to self-medicate in response to psychological or physical issues experienced during their deployment.

New information provided in the study will help the Defense Department do a better job of education and referral for treatment when alcohol issues are identified on post-deployment health assessments, he said.

“We can also refocus family support and education programs to discuss alcohol misuse and to educate all on resources available in the military, in the [Department of Veterans Affairs] and in the civilian community,” Kilpatrick said.

Within the National Guard, for example, officials are exploring new and better ways to address alcohol-related issues before and after their members deploy, said Emanuel Pacheco, National Guard Bureau spokesman.

The National Guard is in the process of placing a director of psychological health in all 54 states and territories, Pachecho reported. This official, a mental health counselor licensed to practice independently, will help Guard members with a variety of readjustment and reintegration concerns, he explained.

Pacheco called the new position another way the National Guard is helping to meet the needs of its members.

“The National Guard is constantly seeking better ways to maintain and improve the behavioral health and general well-being of its warriors through synergistic programs including chaplain support, family support, employment assistance, advocacy, counseling and training, and this new position is another way of meeting those needs,” he said. “We recognize the unique needs of our citizen-soldiers and -airmen and are constantly looking for innovative ways that we can better meet those needs.”

The “That Guy” campaign is one of the most recent DoD initiatives to increase awareness of the negative effects of excessive drinking. Launched in December 2006, the campaign targets the 18-to-24-year-old population with a warning not to become “that guy” whose overdrinking causes him to become a danger, an embarrassment and the butt of ridicule.

The services are promoting the campaign widely to promote responsible alcohol use and encourage members experiencing alcohol-related problems to seek help.

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