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Study aims to identify genetics contributing to PTSD, substance use

November 4, 2015
by Julia Brown, Associate Editor
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According to new data, recently deployed National Guard members and Reservists are returning stateside with a higher prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, depression and substance abuse compared to active duty soldiers. However, they typically return to civilian life without any mental health assessments or treatment.

In order to provide better post-trauma treatment for these service members, a new Geisinger study aims to identify which specific genetic factors contribute to a higher risk of these post-discharge conditions.  

Led by Joseph Boscarino, Ph.D., M.P.H., senior scientist with the Geisinger Center for Health Research and a U.S. Army combat veteran, the study looks at the mental health and substance abuse risk factors in the National Guard and Reservists seen in non-Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities.

"Generally we've found that individuals with 'at risk' genes are more likely to develop PTSD,  depression and substance abuse, especially when associated with a higher exposure to traumatic events or greater exposure to childhood adversity," Boscarino explained in a press release. Screening these individuals for genetic factors may lead to better post-trauma treatment through genetic counseling, he added.

Boscarino’s national team has developed a tool for predicting PTSD following traumatic incidents.

"Until now, there hasn't been an easy-to-use tool to help clinicians rapidly identify PTSD in patients in routine practice or after a traumatic event," he said. "We think we have a basic tool that can quickly identify PTSD cases and facilitate appropriate therapy.”

The study is being funded through a Community Partners in Mental Health Research Award by the Department of Defense, Defense Health Program, Psychological Health/Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program. 

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