Alcohol not crutch for quake victims

Last updated 05:00 28/01/2013

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The Canterbury earthquakes might not have driven people to the bottle as predicted, a study suggests.

However, stressed-out residents are drinking to cope with anxiety and depressions.

Leila Marie, one of 50 University of Otago, Christchurch students to present research summaries last week, studied the effects of the quakes on alcohol and substance abuse.

Contrary to expectations, her sample group did not report increased drinking but many people reported drinking to cope with anxiety and depression despite self-identifying as coping well with the earthquakes and their effects.

"Those who have a lower capacity to positively adapt to or recover from a traumatic experience are more likely to consume alcohol to cope with negative affective states," Marie said.

Rebekah Smith studied "post-traumatic growth" among Canterbury residents and found 92 per cent of participants said they were stronger after the quakes.

Others said their priorities in life had changed because living through the earthquakes had made them understand what was important.

"Those were the two main themes . . . and the interesting finding for me was that people who had experienced more traumatic events during and after the earthquakes reported more growth."

She also found those with tertiary-level education reported more post-traumatic growth. Smith said older women showed higher levels of growth than younger women while younger men showed higher levels than older men. The sample group was made up of people who identified as coping well after the quakes.

Smith hoped to compare the findings from this group to people who had experienced post traumatic stress disorder.

Matthew Chamberlain studied the psychological impact of the quakes on more than 1400 Christchurch general practice patients who had been referred to specialist help.

However, on the Kessler scale of psychological distress, Pacific Island and Asian people reported higher levels of unease. "People from the southern suburbs, including Sumner and Lyttelton, had lower Kessler scores," he said.

Chamberlain said risk factors, such as poor social support, may play a more important role than factors like age.

To participate in the post-traumatic growth study contact Alex Loughlin on 03 372 0400.

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