Stress, Depression and Drug Abuse: Fallout of September 11

A survey of New York City residents in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks found high levels of both depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among respondents and documented an increase in substance abuse. The survey, conducted by NIDA-funded researchers Dr. David Vlahov and his colleagues at the New York Academy of Medicine 5 to 8 weeks after the terrorist attacks, quantifies the relationships among stress, depression, and substance abuse. The results provide insight into public health service delivery needs as well as clues to effective treatment strategies to help individuals cope with traumatic events.

Map of Study Area

Stress has long been recognized as one of the most powerful triggers for drug craving and relapse to drug abuse. Research has shown that survivors of disasters are prone to stress-related problems such as PTSD and depression. People who experience major trauma and those with PTSD or depression may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to relax, cope with stress, or relieve symptoms. "This study is one of the first to capture data on the effects of traumatic events on substance abuse patterns," says Dr. Jacques Normand of NIDA's Center on AIDS and Other Medical Consequences of Drug Abuse. "The increase in substance abuse found here was of significant magnitude. This study reminds counselors and treatment providers to be alert to increased use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana in the wake of such events."