Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

This Bud isn't for you

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WASHINGTON -- I like beer and would wager most veterans like beer too. Budweiser placed a similar bet Sunday night during the Super Bowl with its ad, A Hero's Welcome, which showed a Norman Rockwell-esque homecoming for Army 1st Lt. Chuck Nadd in his hometown, Winter Park, Fla. -- courtesy of Budweiser.

The ad tugs my heartstrings in the same complex way that standing ovations at Washington Nationals games for veterans do. The applause feels good and is certainly better than what Vietnam-era veterans faced too frequently at home. Nonetheless, the Budweiser ad should have never been aired. The ad ignores the complicated relationship that veterans have with alcohol, obscuring how much harm booze does to veterans when they come home.

The National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health found in 2005 that veteran alcohol use surpassed non-veteran drinking. The rates of alcohol use were highest among young veterans ages 18 to 25, who were also the ones most likely to engage in binge drinking.

More recent studies echo these conclusions from the 2005 survey: "Studies show that alcohol misuse and abuse, hazardous drinking and binge drinking are common among [Afghanistan and Iraq] veterans," said one SAMSHA policy brief, adding increased combat exposure often increased the frequency and amount of alcohol consumption among young veterans.

According to a recent study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, 27 per cent of Iraq veterans met the criteria for alcohol abuse and were therefore at higher risk for drunk driving and illicit drug use. The NIH also reported that alcohol and drug use frequently overlapped with military suicide, with booze or drugs involved in 30 per cent of army suicide deaths between 2003 and 2009 and 45 per cent of attempts during roughly the same period. That means alcohol is directly fuelling the military's ongoing suicide crisis, which has seen more than 1,500 troops take their own lives since the start of the two wars.

A 2011 study by Veterans Affairs and U.C. San Francisco researchers documented an 11 per cent rate of alcohol or drug abuse disorder among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seen by the VA. And, more importantly, these researchers found three-quarters of those diagnosed with alcohol or drug abuse also had PTSD or depression, meaning those with PTSD or depression were four times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol than their combat peers. In a more recent study in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found 39 per cent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans screened positive for probable drug abuse -- the same percentage that existed among returning Vietnam veterans decades earlier.

Despite all this data, the military has a long and complex relationship with alcohol.

But that changed with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the military instituted policies explicitly banning all deployed troops from consuming alcohol. There was a good reason for those rules, which is the same reason Sunday night's Super Bowl ad went too far. Alcohol can lead to depression, worsen PTSD, and in some cases accelerate the downward spiral that leads to suicide. Decades of research should have persuaded the army to avoid getting in bed with Budweiser. Better for at-risk soldiers to hear a simple truth: This Bud isn't for you.

-- Foreign Policy

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2014 D6

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