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04-04-2013 | Psychology | Article

Alert to substance abuse among children of deployed personnel

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medwireNews: Schools and healthcare providers should be aware that children of deployed military personnel are at increased risk for substance abuse, say the authors of a US study.

The researchers found that children of service men or women who were recently or currently deployed were around eight times as likely to have ever drank alcohol, to have consumed alcohol in the previous 30 days, or to have been binge drinking (five or more alcoholic drinks in a day) in the prior 30 days than children of non-military parents. Use of marijuana, other illicit drugs, and prescription drug abuse were also significantly increased.

Writing in Addiction, the authors say their findings are likely due to the disruption parental deployment causes to children.

"Military deployment is a critical time for intervention with military children who likely experience reduced parental support and increased stressful home environments," say Laura Acion (University of Iowa, Iowa City) and colleagues.

The study included responses from 59,395 6th, 8th, and 11th grade children who said they had a currently deployed military parent (n=775), a recently returned military parent (n=983), or a non-military parent (n=57,637) in the 2010 Iowa Youth Survey.

Among children with a recently or currently deployed parent, 36.2% had ever drank alcohol, 22.3% had drank alcohol in the previous 30 days, and 17.6% had been binge drinking in the previous 30 days compared with 28.3%, 14.5%, and 9.6% of children, respectively, in the non-military group.

Meanwhile, drug abuse was more than twice as prevalent in the military group than the non-military group with rates of marijuana use of 10.1%, illegal drug use of 10.2%, and prescription drug misuse of 15.3% compared with 4.8%, 3.1%, and 6.7%, respectively.

The effect of parental deployment on binge drinking and marijuana use were significantly influenced by the child's living arrangements. Children of a deployed parent not living with a parent or close relative had an 7.1-fold increased odds for 30-day marijuana use compared with non-military children, while among students living with their parents the odds ratio was 3.4. Corresponding odds ratios for 30-day binge drinking were 8.7 and 7.7.

The authors say that their results indicate there may not be adequate support in place for the children of deployed personnel whose living situations may suddenly change and leave them with prolonged periods of separation from a parent.

"Schools and primary health-care providers may serve important roles for children who are most vulnerable during times of deployment," they suggest.

"For example, adults in schools and health-care settings could facilitate access to support services by providing early screening for substance use and triage through referrals."

By Kirsty Oswald, medwireNews Reporter

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