Objectives: This paper reports on a statistically significant association between alcohol use and deployment to the 2003 Iraq War. It assesses the occupational factors and deployment experiences associated with heavy drinking in regular UK servicemen deployed to Iraq in the first phase of the 2003 Iraq War (Operation TELIC 1, the military codename for the conflict in Iraq).
Methods: A random representative sample of 3578 regular male UK Armed Forces personnel who were deployed to Iraq during Operation TELIC 1 participated in a cross-sectional postal questionnaire study (response rate 61%). Participants completed a questionnaire, between June 2004 and March 2006 (ie, after deployment), about their health, including a measure of alcohol use (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, AUDIT) and questions about their experiences on deployment to Iraq. Heavy drinkers were identified as those scoring 16 or above on the AUDIT.
Results: After adjustment for sociodemographic and military factors, and the presence of psychological distress, heavy drinkers were more likely to have had major problems at home during (odds ratio (OR) 1.33, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.04 to 1.70) and following their deployment (OR 1.68, 95% CI 1.32 to 2.14). Being deployed with their parent unit (OR 1.28, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.61), medium to high in-theatre unit comradeship (medium: OR 1.35, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.77; high: OR 1.35, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.79) and poor unit leadership (OR 1.78, 95% CI 1.37 to 2.31) were also associated with heavy drinking.
Conclusions: Deployment experiences and problems at home during and following deployment, as well as the occupational milieu of the unit, influence personnel’s risk of heavy drinking.
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Funding: The study was funded by the UK Ministry of Defence. The authors’ work was independent of the funder, and we disclosed the paper to the Ministry of Defence when we submitted it for publication.
Competing interests: Neil Greenberg is a full time active service medical officer who has been seconded to the Academic Centre for Defence Mental Health and Christopher Barker is a full time active service medical officer who has collaborated with the authors on this piece of work. Although paid by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Neil Greenberg and Christopher Barker were not directed in any way by the MoD in relation to this publication. Simon Wessely is Honorary Civilian Consultant Advisor to the British Army. All the other authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.
Ethics approval: The study received approval from the Ministry of Defence (Navy) personnel research ethics committee and the King’s College Hospital local research ethics committee.
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