Negative Emotionality May Contribute to Worse Post-Deployment PTSD and Poorer Intimate Relationships among National Guard Iraq War Soldiers
OEF/OIF Veterans are expressing growing difficulties with intimate relationships, and more than 50% reported mild to moderate intimate partner violence. Consistent with previous generations of Veterans, post-deployment PTSD symptoms among OEF/OIF Veterans are associated with poorer relationship satisfaction. Negative emotionality (NEM) is the tendency to experience negative emotional states, such as anxiety or irritability, react poorly to stress, and to respond out of proportion to circumstances. This study examined the contribution of the pre-existing personality trait of NEM and comorbid problem drinking to the association between post-deployment PTSD symptoms and relationship distress among 308 combat-exposed OIF National Guard soldiers. Participants in this study were assessed one month prior to a 16-month deployment and again 2-3 months following their return. Participants were involved in a romantic relationship at post-deployment.
Findings show that NEM predisposes combat-exposed soldiers to more severe PTSD symptoms, which, in turn, contribute to poorer intimate relationships. Higher levels of pre-existing NEM predicted higher levels of post-deployment PTSD symptoms. Overall, 16% screened positive for probable PTSD, 22% for relationship distress, and 30.5% for hazardous drinking and possible alcohol dependence. Soldiers with probable PTSD were more likely to experience relationship distress than those without probable PTSD (33% vs. 20%). Soldiers with positive hazardous drinking screens were more likely to screen positive for PTSD than those with negative drinking screens (37% vs. 29%), however, those with positive drinking screens were no more likely to experience relationship distress than those with negative drinking screens. The authors suggest that since the soldiers in this study had only recently returned from combat, their problem drinking may yet translate into poorer relationship quality beyond the impact of PTSD.
Meis L, Erbes C, Polusny M, and Compton J. Intimate relationships among returning soldiers: The mediating and moderating roles of negative emotionality, PTSD symptoms, and alcohol problems. Journal of Traumatic Stress September 16, 2010;e-pub ahead of print.
Drs. Meis and Polusny are part of HSR&D’s Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research.