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WASHINGTON — Patients with post-traumatic stress disorders are more likely to struggle with smoking, alcoholism and obesity, according to a new analysis of post-traumatic stress studies.

Researchers say the findings shows that counselors need to deal not just with the mental aspects of PTSD, but also the physical challenges that patients face.

“Relieving the PTSD will help with some of the burden, but these risk behaviors will still be a problem,” said Dr. Miles McFall, Director of Psychology Service at VA Puget Sound Health Care System and an author of the analysis. “They need to be treated specifically.”

The report, published in the latest issue of the Department of Veterans Affairs PTSD Research Quarterly, reviews various research performed over the last few years which shows PTSD patients are twice as likely to smoke, twice as likely to develop a drinking problem and nearly three times more likely to use drugs than the general population.

Another study showed that nearly 83 percent of those suffering from PTSD are overweight or obese, compared to just under 65 percent of the adult population in the United States.

McFall said those symptoms aren’t necessarily indicators that someone might have PTSD — for example, many veterans who don’t have stress disorders also smoke — but health professionals dealing with PTSD patients should be on the lookout for that type of destructive behavior as well.

Ideally, counselors should treat both the PTSD and the secondary problems at the same time, he said.

“We’ve seen that mental health professionals who treat both get a better result,” McFall said.

The report pointed to the high-risk health behavior as a possible reason for the shorter life space among PTSD patients.

“It cannot be assumed that these behaviors will resolve on their own without direct, targeted intervention,” the report states.


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