Alcohol Use Trajectories Among Adults in an Urban Area After a Disaster

Evidence from a Population-Based Cohort Study

Preliminary research into patterns of alcohol use suggest that stressful and traumatic events over the course of a person’s life can play a critical role in generating pathways of risk behaviors, including drinking. This study assesses alcohol trajectories of a cohort of residents living in New York City after the World Trade Center disaster. Participants included 2,752 residents who took part in a series of phone surveys over a 39-month period. Alcohol consumption was assessed in two ways at each interview: number of drinks consumed per day in the past 30 days; and bingeing—defined as having consumed five or more drinks per day in the past 30 days for males and having consumed four or more drinks in the past 30 days for females.

Key Findings:

  • Ongoing exposure to stressors, such as financial problems and divorce, was a predictor of high levels of alcohol use and bingeing.
  • The acute experience of the World Trade Center attack did not predict long-term alcohol consumption.

These results suggest that interventions post-disaster should focus on alleviating sources of stressors in the community that may follow an event of this magnitude, such as loss of employment, property and relationship breakdowns.