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A Mixed Method Analysis of Binge Drinking among Student Veterans in Rural Community Colleges

Curran GM, Cheney AM, Fortney JC. A Mixed Method Analysis of Binge Drinking among Student Veterans in Rural Community Colleges. Poster session presented at: Research Society on Alcoholism Annual Scientific Meeting; 2013 Jun 25; Orlando, FL.


While the majority of returning Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) military service members successfully reintegrate into family life, vocational pursuits, and educational activities, a significant percentage have difficulty because they suffer with alcohol/drug problems and other mental health problems. It is critical to link these Veterans to care to promote successful re-integration into a productive, civilian life. A substantial number of OEF/OIF veterans enter community colleges on the new GI Bill. They are attempting to transition from the highly structured military setting to the unstructured and sometimes chaotic environment of college. This mixed method study investigates the prevalence of substance use and mental health problems, and help-seeking behaviors, among samples of Veterans and non-Veterans from 11 rural community colleges in Arkansas. The study will also develop novel linkage-to-care interventions based on the Veterans' perspectives. 228 student veterans and 554 non-Veteran students completed our survey. Preliminary analyses find the student Veterans reporting high levels of drinking and psychological distress. 35% of the student Veterans reported binge drinking in the past 2 weeks, compared to 19% among the non-Veteran students (OR = 1.9; p < .05). Past year illicit substance use was not significantly different across Veteran and non-Veteran groups, with rates about 10%. The student Veterans reported significantly more current symptoms related to depression (32% v. 21%) and PTSD (25% v. 13%) than the non-Veterans students; however, current reported symptoms of generalized anxiety were not different (23%). Analyses from the in-depth interviews are uncovering a number of consistent emergent themes. A number of Veterans describe using binge drinking to cope with stress, especially associated with combat exposure. Further, numerous barriers to help-seeking are being reported, including lack of perceived need, skepticism of treatment efficacy, stigma, and lack of available services. Relative to their recommendations for interventions they would find acceptable, an emergent theme is "Vet-to-Vet connections." Numerous participants have discussed their ideas about using student Veterans as liaisons and/or connectors to care. Thus far in the study, the data indicate a need for increased recognition of alcohol misuse and other mental health problems and intervention in this population.

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