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Study: one in five UK veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan turn to alcohol

By Ian Drury | The Daily Mail/UK | 01 Mar 2014

Thousands of British servicemen and women who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are abusing alcohol to block out the horrors of war.

An authoritative study has found that as many as 33,000 members of the Armed Forces - around one in five - are drinking harmful levels of alcohol.

Troops who are deployed in direct combat on the battlefield had a higher risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with seven per cent reporting problems compared with four per cent among all regulars.

Violence among service personnel remains a ‘concern’ with one in seven attacking someone in an explosive rage after returning from the frontline - often wives or partners.

And the report found reservists were more likely to experience mental health problems after coming home from a warzone.

But the study found UK troops were ‘more resilient’ at coping with the mental health stresses of battled than U.S. soldiers, of whom 29 per cent report suffering PTSD.

Military charities described the research, by academics at King’s College London, as ‘alarming’.

The findings fuel growing fears that the UK is facing a ‘ticking timebomb’ of ex-servicemen who are suffering life-changing mental problems following more than a decade of intense conflict.

Thousands of British soldiers have endured the daily threat of roadside bombs and insurgent attacks and many have seen friends and comrades killed and horribly wounded.

The study, led by Professor Neil Greenberg, reviewed 34 published studies, some going back 15 years, on the psychological impact of deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is published today (THURS) in the Journal Of The Royal Army Medical Corps.

Prof Greenberg said: ‘Not since the Vietnam war has there been so much research directed towards the mental health of service personnel.

‘It remains to be seen what the longer-term psychological impact of serving in Iraq or Afghanistan will be, and what social and healthcare services might be required for this small but important group of veterans who are at highest risk of mental health problems.’

Forces charities say they are bracing themselves for a ‘tidal wave’ of veterans with psychological problems because of the numbers being deployed to warzones.

Some veterans struggle for years with crippling symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, depression and anxiety attacks. Many fall into chronic alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness and crime.

Peter Poole, deputy chief executive of Combat Stress, said: ‘We are encouraged by measures put in place by the UK Armed Forces to support serving personnel are having results. Nevertheless, the rate of those suffering from PTSD is worrying.

‘With the increase in demand for services every year we know we will see the legacy of the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come. It is vital that we are able to deliver effective support to these brave men and women so they can return to fulfilling lives.’

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the Government had committed £7.4million to improve mental health for service personnel.

She said: ‘We are not complacent. We want to further reduce the stigma of mental illness and continue to better services.’