Fergusson and colleagues examined the relationships between the extent of earthquake exposure and mental health outcomes following the Canterbury, New Zealand, earthquakes in 2010-2011; net of adjustment for potentially confounding factors related to personal circumstances; prior mental health; and childhood family background.
Although several studies have suggested that alcohol use may increase after disasters, it is unclear whether any apparent postdisaster increases regularly translate into new cases of alcohol use disorders.
To determine the relationship of predisaster and postdisaster prevalence of alcohol use disorders and to examine the incidence of alcohol use disorders in relation to disasters.
Data from 10 disasters, studied within the first few postdisaster months and at 1 to 3 years postdisaster, were merged and examined.
Six hundred ninety-seven directly exposed survivors of 10 disasters.
The Diagnostic Interview Schedule for DSM-III-R provided lifetime diagnoses of alcohol abuse and dependence, and onset and recency questions allowed a determination of whether the disorder had been present either prior to or following the event, or both.
While the postdisaster prevalence of alcohol use disorders was 19%, only 0.3% of the sample developed an acute new postdisaster alcohol use disorder. Most of those in recovery, however, consumed alcohol after the disaster (83%) and coped with their emotions by drinking alcohol (22%). Those with a postdisaster alcohol use disorder were more than 4 times as likely as those without to cope with their disaster-related emotions by drinking alcohol (40% vs 9%).
The vast majority of postdisaster alcohol use disorders represented the continuation or recurrence of preexisting problems. Findings suggest that those in recovery as well as those who drink to cope with their emotions represent groups warranting potential concern for postdisaster mental health intervention. Further research is needed to clarify the clinical significance of changes in alcohol use after disasters.
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