Effects of combat deployment on risky and self-destructive behavior among active duty military personnel

J Psychiatr Res. 2011 Oct;45(10):1321-31. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2011.04.003. Epub 2011 May 6.


Although research has documented negative effects of combat deployment on mental health, few studies have examined whether deployment increases risky or self-destructive behavior. The present study addressed this issue. In addition, we examined whether deployment effects on risky behavior varied depending on history of pre-deployment risky behavior, and assessed whether psychiatric conditions mediated effects of deployment on risky behavior. In an anonymous survey, active duty members of the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy (N = 2116) described their deployment experiences and their participation in risky recreational activities, unprotected sex, illegal drug use, self-injurious behavior, and suicide attempts during three time frames (civilian, military pre-deployment, and military post-deployment). Respondents also reported whether they had problems with depression, anxiety, or PTSD during the same three time frames. Results revealed that risky behavior was much more common in civilian than in military life, with personnel who had not deployed, compared to those who had deployed, reporting more risky behavior and more psychiatric problems as civilians. For the current time period, in contrast, personnel who had deployed (versus never deployed) were significantly more likely to report both risky behavior and psychiatric problems. Importantly, deployment was associated with increases in risky behavior only for personnel with a pre-deployment history of engaging in risky behavior. Although psychiatric conditions were associated with higher levels of risky behavior, psychiatric problems did not mediate associations between deployment and risky behavior. Implications for understanding effects of combat deployment on active duty personnel and directions for future research are discussed.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Combat Disorders / psychology*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology