Platoni Looks at Alcohol Use, Soldiers – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
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Platoni Looks at Alcohol Use, Soldiers

Dr. Kathy Platoni ’74, a Colonel in the U.S. Army with 29 years of experience, is quoted in the September issue of “Clinical Psychiatry News,” in an article about a new study that shows that combat deployment raises the risk of alcohol-related problems. Platoni, the article notes, said soldiers in the Army Reserve and National Guard experience increased pressure because they lack the same support as their active-duty counterparts. Alcohol, she says is an easy fix.

“They’re isolated,” the article quotes Dr. Platoni, as saying. “Often, Army Reserve and National Guard units are located remotely and distant from any treatment resources through the VA system and those available to active duty soldiers on military installations.

“Once you return to civilian life, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to access services. Add to that the tremendous drive to self-anesthetize and suppress painful emotions that come back to haunt time and time again.”

The article notes a number of programs available to soldiers to meet mental health needs. It adds, “The Army is desperately trying to meet the need,” quoting Platoni. “But the problem is so much bigger than we ever anticipated.”

Platoni is an expert in hypnotherapy and the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. She has been deployed four times-one stateside tour of duty during the Gulf War, a command of a Combat Stress Control Detachment at Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay, one tour of duty in Iraq, and once during the aftermath of 9/11 to support the New York Police Department at Ground Zero. In October, 2007, she was bestowed the Alumna Achievement Award, the William Smith College Alumnae Association’s highest honor.

The full article appears below.


Clinical Psychiatry News
“Combat Deployment Boosts Alcohol Problems”
Mary Ann Moon • Contributing Writer • September 2008

A new study shows that combat deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan raises the risk of new-onset heavy weekly drinking, binge drinking, and other alcohol-related problems.

The increased risks are highest among members of the U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard rather than other components of the military. Risks also are higher in younger than in older combat veterans and among those who report previous or existing mental health disorders, reported Isabel G. Jacobson of the Naval Health Research Center, San Diego, and her associates ( JAMA 2008;300:663-75).

The investigators analyzed data on alcohol use drawn from The Millennium Cohort Study, a large population-based prospective study of the long-term health of military service members, which began in 2001. Their results “are the first to prospectively quantify changes in alcohol use in relation to recent combat deployments,” Ms. Jacobson and her colleagues noted.

A total of 48,481 military personnel was assessed before deployment and followed up again 2-3 years later. Subjects included 5,510 people who had combat experience in Iraq or Afghanistan, 5,661 who were deployed but weren’t exposed to combat, and 37,310 who were not deployed.

Personnel exposed to combat were at significantly increased risk of taking up heavy weekly drinking or binge drinking, compared with those not exposed to combat, the investigators said.

Members of the reserve and guard were at the highest risk, most likely because these civilian soldiers receive less adequate military training, have to make a transition between military and civilian settings, feel less group cohesiveness than members of standard military units, and have less access to support services than are available within the military when they return to civilian communities, the researchers said.

They noted that this finding is consistent with that of another recent study of veterans returning from Iraq, in which the prevalence of alcohol problems was 15% in members of the reserve or guard, compared with 12% in active-duty personnel (JAMA 2007;298:2141-8).

Younger soldiers and those who reported previous or current mental health problems also were at significantly increased risk for excessive drinking following exposure to combat. It is likely that they used alcohol to help them cope with the trauma they experienced.

It is also possible that existing mental health problems signal a particular vulnerability to alcohol abuse, and also make it more difficult for soldiers to control the effects of alcohol-both of which would lead to more alcohol related problems, Ms. Jacobson and her associates said.

Col. Kathy Platoni, Psy.D., said in an interview that the pressures on soldiers in the Army Reserve and National Guard are exacerbated because they do not have the support of their fellow soldiers.

“They’re isolated,” said Dr. Platoni, an Ohio-based clinical psychologist and Army colonel who has been both an active duty and Army Reserve soldier for 29 years. “Often, Army Reserve and National Guard units are located remotely and distant from any treatment resources through the VA system and those available to active duty soldiers on military installations.

“Once you return to civilian life, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to access services. Add to that the tremendous drive to self-anesthetize and suppress painful emotions that come back to haunt time and time again.”

She said alcohol is an easy fix. “There is such a drive to avoid painful emotions and memories, and alcohol is the cheapest, easiest route.”

Dr. Platoni said several programs are available that are aimed at meeting the mental health needs of soldiers. Among them are the OHIOCARES Program, which was created by the Ohio National Guard; and the newly developed Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, which is “designed to intervene upon soldiers’ return from the wartime theater.” Services are provided at 30-, 60-, and 90-day intervals, and family members are included.

The latest JAMA study serves as a reminder of the huge task facing the mental health community in this time of war. “The Army is desperately trying to meet the need,” she said. “But the problem is so much bigger than we ever anticipated.”