The gold standard for measuring symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTSD) is the PTSD Checklist (PCL). When this test is administered, it measures the severity of symptoms associated with negative stress reactions and can help mental health professionals determine who may be experiencing clinical levels of PTSD. However, many people who have subclinical levels of PTSD are at risk for negative behaviors such as risk taking, drug and alcohol misuse, and aggression. In an effort to determine if the PCL accurately disseminates those most vulnerable to negative stress responses, Dr. Janie M. Brown of Research Triangle Institute International in North Carolina recently conducted a study that involved administering the PCL to military personnel.
Soldiers who have been exposed to combat are more likely to experience traumatic events than those who have never been deployed. Therefore, Brown chose to survey 6,074 reserve personnel and 8,354 active-duty personnel, all of whom had seen military combat within the previous two years. She assessed the veterans for alcohol use, risk taking, impulsiveness, and other behaviors associated with negative stress reactions. Brown discovered that the lower the PCL scores, the lower the negative behavior, including aggression, violence, drug use, and impulsivity. This finding was true for both groups of participants.
One of the most revealing findings of this study was that participants did not have to have clinical levels of PTSD in order to exhibit significantly negative behaviors. In fact, those who fell well below the clinical range still had high levels of substance-use issues, risk taking, and aggression. With respect to drinking, the results showed that the active-duty personnel were more vulnerable to negative behaviors than the reserve members and that even low PCL scores put them at risk for negative outcomes pertaining to alcohol use. “Thus, even for those who do not exhibit strong PTSD symptomatology, screening for other high-risk behaviors should be conducted,” Brown said. She believes that lowering the PTSD clinical ranges could identify more individuals at risk for maladaptive stress responses. In addition, Brown noted that this study did not consider the number, length, or location of deployments—only the fact the participants had been deployed. Future research should explore how deployment variances affect PTSD levels and how that may relate to stress responses.
Brown, Janice M., Jason Williams, Robert M. Bray, and Laurel Hourani. Ostdeployment alcohol use, aggression, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Military Medicine 1771.10 (2012): 1184-190. Print.
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