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November 2009 Issue
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Mental health benefits from alcohol: study

 Health Sciences

A new study led by University of Adelaide researchers shows that moderate alcohol consumption may help protect accident victims from posttraumatic psychological distress.

More than 1000 patients admitted to hospital following traumatic injury were assessed for patterns of alcohol consumption before the accident and in the three months following. This was compared with the level of anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) one week after the accident and at three months.

The researchers found that moderate alcohol consumption before and following the accident predicted lower levels of psychological distress. Conversely, both abstinence from alcohol and high levels of drinking produced poorer mental health outcomes.

A small group of patients showed a link between more severe PTSD and the emergence of alcohol abuse, suggesting "self-medication".

The findings have been published recently in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

"Alcohol consumption is an embedded and accepted behaviour in our community. Rather than suggesting abstinence following exposure to traumatic events because of the perceived risk of addiction through alcohol abuse, the importance of moderate drinking should be emphasised as this behaviour may have some benefit in minimising distress," said lead author Professor Alexander McFarlane.

Professor McFarlane is Head of the Centre for Military and Veterans' Health at the University of Adelaide and internationally renowned as an expert in the impact of disasters and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Individuals should, however, be warned of the risks of excessive consumption, Professor McFarlane said. The researchers advocated active screening and early intervention strategies that focus on moderate alcohol usage.

The researchers were from the Centre for Military and Veterans' Health at the University of Adelaide, the Schools of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, and the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health and Department of Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne.

Story by Robyn Mills

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