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The study was conducted by researchers at the National Center for PTSD at the VA Boston Healthcare System.
"For individuals with PTSD, exposure to new stressful events will often prolong their symptoms and can even make them worse. So, these findings suggest that treatment providers should ask trauma-exposed veterans about reckless behavior to make sure they are not engaging in harmful behaviors that could make their PTSD symptoms worse," study corresponding author Naomi Sadeh said in a VA news release.
Besides having much higher rates of PTSD than civilians, veterans are more likely to engage in risky behavior. Their suicide risk is also about 50 percent higher, according to the VA.
Veterans are more often jailed for violent offenses and are more likely than civilians to drive recklessly, be binge drinkers and problem gamblers, the researchers said.
The study participants were assessed for PTSD severity and risky behavior in 2006 and again four years later. Nearly 3 out of 4 had engaged in reckless or self-destructive behavior at least once in the five years before the study.
The most common risky behaviors were dangerous alcohol or drug use, drunken driving, gambling and aggression. In both 2006 and 2010, the researchers found links between reckless behavior and more severe PTSD, according to the study published recently in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.
"These types of high-risk behaviors appear to be common among veterans who have experienced trauma, and put veterans in harm's way by making it more likely that they will experience stress and adversity in the future," Sadeh said.
The study noted, for example, that drunken driving increases the likelihood of a traumatic motor vehicle accident, overt aggression can lead to assault and drug use can increase exposure to crime and physical injury.
Between the two assessments, 82 percent of the veterans experienced at least one potentially traumatic event. They included a life-threatening illness; the sudden death of a friend or loved one; a physical assault or threatened assault; a motor vehicle accident; or a life-threatening or disabling event affecting a loved one.
-- Robert Preidt
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