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Alcohol abuse increases after Hurricane Katrina; large burden of post-traumatic stress in population


NN ARBOR, Mich.—Two papers released this week confirmed that disaster response greatly impacts the public health of survivors. New work shows that there was more alcohol abuse or dependency after Katrina, particularly in some groups.

University of Michigan researchers presented the two papers at the Population Association of America’s annual meeting in New Orleans April 16-19.

Both of the papers relate to how survivors of Hurricane Katrina dealt with the stress of the disaster. In the first paper, “The Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Socioeconomic Disparities in Alcohol Use,” researchers found that overall, Katrina survivors were over three times more likely to exhibit alcohol abuse after a stress experience. If the survivor experienced a trauma, they were five times more likely to become alcohol dependent.

The difference between a stress and a trauma is one of degree, said Sandro Galea, associate professor in the U-M School of Public Health and co-author of both papers. Galea is also a research affiliate at the Population Studies Center of the U-M Institute of Social Research. An example of a stressor, he said, might be dealing with insurance companies or contractors; a trauma is losing a loved one.

Researchers looked at the contribution of exposure to Katrina to alcohol binge drinking, and socioeconomic differences in the association between exposures to Katrina and binge drinking. They used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics collected in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

In the second paper, “Financial and Social Circumstances and the Incidence and Course of PTSD in Mississippi during the First Two Years after Hurricane Katrina,” researchers interviewed 810 people in 23 southernmost counties of Mississippi. The prevalence of post traumatic stress disorder after Katrina was more than 22 percent.

In the second study, researchers showed three novel observations: there was a 50 percent or more higher burden of PTSD among Mississippi Katrina survivors than is typical in disaster areas; ongoing stressors and traumatic events were primarily associated with the risk of PTSD; and stressors and traumatic events were associated with both the incidence and the course of PTSD post-disaster.

“This work strongly suggests that reducing the stressors that disaster survivors face can reduce the public health burden of these events. Post-disaster reconstruction efforts become very much public health efforts and need to be recognized as essential to promote health” Galea said.

The results show again that how the government responds to a disaster and to helping victims rebuild their lives should be considered a public health response. Proper response could reduce the burden of mental illness after a disaster, Galea said.

The University of Michigan School of Public Health has been working to promote health and prevent disease since 1941, and is consistently ranked among the top five public health schools in the nation. Faculty and students in the school’s five academic departments and dozens of collaborative centers and initiatives are forging new solutions to the complex health challenges of today, including chronic disease, health care quality and finance, emerging genetic technologies, climate change, socioeconomic inequalities and their impact on health, infectious disease, and the globalization of health.


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