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Parents' Military Deployment Takes Toll on Kids, Study Finds

FRIDAY, April 5 (HealthDay News) -- Children from military families whose parents are deployed are at greater risk for alcohol and drug use, according to a new study.

This risk increases when parents' deployment disrupts their children's living situation and the kids are forced to live with people who aren't relatives, researchers from the University of Iowa found.

Schools should be aware that children from military families whose parents are deployed may need additional support, the researchers suggested.

"When at least one parent is deployed, there is a measurable percentage of children who are not living with their natural parents," the study's senior author, Stephan Arndt, professor of psychiatry in biostatistics, said in a university news release. "Some of these children go to live with a relative, but some go outside of the family, and that change in these children's living arrangements grossly affected their risk of binge drinking and marijuana use."

The results suggest that when a parent deploys, it may be preferable to place a child with a family member and try to minimize the disruption, he said.

In 2010, nearly 2 million U.S. children had at least one parent on active military duty, the researchers said.

The study, published online in the journal Addiction, involved information compiled on nearly 60,000 sixth-, eighth- and 11th-grade students who participated in the Iowa Youth Survey. The students answered questions online about their experiences with alcohol, drugs and violence. They were also asked about how they viewed their friends, family, school and community, and if they had a parent in the military and if that parent was deployed.

Overall, 1.3 percent had a parent who was deployed, 1.7 had a parent who recently returned from deployment and 97 percent did not have a parent in the military.

The researchers found that the students in all three grades whose parents were deployed or just recently returned from military service engaged in more binge drinking and used marijuana and other illegal drugs more in the past 30 days than children who were not from military families.

Rates for drinking alcohol in the past 30 days were seven to nine percentage points higher for children of deployed or recently returned parents.

Rates of binge drinking (having five or more drinks of alcohol in a row) were five to eight percentage points higher for the children of deployed parents.

The study showed that military children who were not living with a parent or relative had a risk of binge drinking that was 42 percentage points higher than children from nonmilitary families. In contrast, children with a deployed parent who were still living with a parent had a risk of binge drinking that was about eight percentage points higher than children from nonmilitary families who were living with a parent.

Marijuana use was higher in children of deployed parents, particularly the older students, the study showed. The risk of using this drug was nearly two percentage points higher for sixth graders and nearly five percentage points higher for the 11th graders.

"We worry a lot about the service men and women and we sometimes forget that they are not the only ones put into harm's way by deployment," Arndt said. "Their families are affected too. Our findings suggest we need to provide these families with more community support."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention talks about alcohol and drug use among young people.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: University of Iowa, news release, March 28, 2013

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