Vulnerability Reawakened: Increased Substance Use Among Aging Traumatized Veterans During COVID-19 Pandemic

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Objective: This study prospectively assesses the implication of (a) exposure to distant trauma of war captivity, (b) stressful life events across the life span, and (c) posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) trajectories and current PTSD, on substance use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Method: One hundred and twenty Israeli ex-prisoners of war (ex-POWs) and 65 matched veterans of the 1973 Yom Kippur War filled out self-report questionnaires in 4 waves of assessment (T1-18, T2-30, T3-35, and T4-42 years after the war). A fifth wave of assessment (T5) was conducted in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, 47 years after the war. Results: Whereas in the earlier assessments (T1-T4) war captivity was not related to substance use, during the COVID-19 pandemic (T5) ex-POWs reported higher increase of use of alcohol, tranquilizers, cannabis, and sleep medications than comparable veterans. War-induced PTSD trajectories that were prospectively measured between T1-T4, and concurrent PTSD during the pandemic (T5) were related to increase in substance use during the pandemic (T5). Conclusions: The findings demonstrate the long-term effects of both earlier experience of severe traumatic stress in young adulthood and the resultant PTSD trajectories, as reflected in increased substance use among the elderly, in the face of subsequent calamity.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Covid-19
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (ptsd)
  • Prisoners of war (pows)
  • Substance use


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