Children at Higher Risk for Alcohol Use If Parents Are Deployed

A study at the university of Iowa showed that kids of parents who are deployed or recently come home from the war are at a much higher risk of alcohol use, binge drinking and marijuana use than non-military families. I guess this really doesn’t come as much of a surprise, if you think about it. Children whose parents are in a war would be handling a fair amount of stress and using alcohol or drugs is one of the ways humans chose to self-medicate and de-stress. Children may not be mini-adults but it wouldn’t take them long to realize that a drink or two calms their nerves. The problem comes when it starts being so much more than a drink or two and self-medicating turns to addiction. Not to mention the physical ailments that happen to the developing brains of these children. ‘Using data from a statewide survey of sixth, eighth, and 11th-grade students in Iowa, the researchers found an increase in 30-day alcohol use, binge drinking, using marijuana and other illegal drugs, and misusing prescription drugs among children of deployed or recently returned military parents compared to children in nonmilitary families.’ Now here is what I found to be very telling: The increased risk was consistent across all age groups. Sixth graders are only 11-years-old.

“Looking at the Iowa Youth Survey, we discovered we were right in regard to our idea that parental deployment would increase the risk for substance use behaviors in children. In fact, the numbers suggested we were a lot more right than we wanted to be,” says Stephan Arndt, Ph.D., UI professor of psychiatry in biostatistics and senior study author. “For example, sixth-graders in nonmilitary families had binge drinking rates of about 2 percent. That jumps up to about 7 percent for the children of deployed or recently returned parents—a three-to-four-fold increase in the raw percentage.” So, what can be done about this? I don’t pretend to have the answers, but here are my thoughts: Stress isn’t something we can control, we may not even know when our body feels stressed. Especially when the stress builds up over time, like when a child is waiting for their parent to come home from Iraq, not knowing whether they ever will. But, while the child may not be able to pinned down the feeling and say to the adults around them, “Hey, I’m feeling stressed out!” it will affect the way they behave – hence, the risk taking behavior. So, if I were taking care of a child whose parent or parents were deployed, I would try and be proactive, getting them involved in activities that were known stress relievers. And I would get involved myself as well. Stay connected, open about how I was feeling about the person you both are missing, and paying close attention to any signs of drug use. Please share your thoughts in the comments area. Stress Reducing Activities for Kids: Art journaling, bike riding, karate, yoga, any exercise that does not involve competition, dance, listening or playing music and hiking.

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