U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Journal of Psychiatric Research 46 (2012) 582-589; doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2012.01.017


Anecdotal and preliminary evidence suggests that Soldiers returning from a combat deployment engage in an increased number of health risk behaviors. Three potential factors driving this change were examined in this study; posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), concussion and traumatic brain injury (TBI), and perceived invincibility. We studied members of a combat arms brigade one month prior to a deployment to Iraq and approximately one month after their return (N = 319). Participants anonymously completed surveys characterizing attitudes about risk, risk propensity, invincibility, engagement in health risk behaviors, and personality. Using standardized screening instruments, participants were categorized with respect to PTSD and probable TBI. Results suggest that Soldiers engage in more alcohol use and reckless driving behaviors post-deployment. These changes were exaggerated in those who screened positive for PTSD. Perception of one’s invincibility and survival skills increased postdeployment thus suggesting that participants felt less susceptible to adverse consequences and more adept at surviving dangerous situations. This study provides documentation of the pattern of health behavior in Soldiers engaged in the deployment cycle. Our findings suggest increases in the number of risks Soldiers’ engage in post-deployment are not limited to those with PTSD symptomtotology. This study has implications for not only adjustment to life post-deployment at the individual level but also operational readiness.