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Risk Factors for Problems with Anger in OEF/OIF Veterans

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Updated January 26, 2012

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Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (OEF/OIF) have been found to be at high risk for the development of a number of mental health problems. Of those problems, anger in veterans of these wars has been frequently observed. In addition, it appears as though veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be particularly at risk for developing anger problems.

For example, in one study it was found that over half of OEF/OIF veterans surveyed who had PTSD also said they had been aggressive in the past four months. For example, these veterans reported threatening physical violence, destroying property and having a physical fight with someone.

Risk Factors for Anger Problems in Veterans

Given that anger problems have commonly been observed among OEF/OIF veterans, a number of mental health professionals are taking on the task of trying to better understand what factors may place OEF/OIF veterans at higher risk for developing anger problems.

One study by the Mid-Atlantic Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center Workgroup (a large group of researchers from Veterans Affairs hospitals) looked at a number of factors that might be associated with anger problems among almost 700 OEF/OIF veterans. Besides anger problems, many of the veterans were experiencing other mental and physical health problems. Almost half of the veterans had PTSD; about a quarter had problems with alcohol; and about 20% had experienced a traumatic brain injury. About 10% of the veterans said they had problems controlling violent behavior.

These researchers found that a number of factors were associated with anger problems, including younger age, a history of witnessing family violence, the experience of physical or sexual abuse before the age of 18 and having a family history of mental illness. In addition, serving in a war zone and having high exposure to combat, firing a weapon in a combat situation and longer deployment were also associated with anger problems.

Finally, having a traumatic brain injury, alcohol misuse and the experience of severe PTSD symptoms were connected to anger problems. Of all of the PTSD symptoms, the hyperarousal symptoms seemed to have the strongest link with anger problems.

What Does This All Mean?

Individuals with PTSD may have intense and unpredictable emotional experiences that can be difficult to manage. These emotional experiences may be even more difficult to manage among someone with other difficulties, such as a history of childhood abuse, alcohol misuse or a traumatic brain injury. Anger and aggressive behavior may be ways of establishing a sense of control. Anger may also be a way of trying to express or release tension and arousal associated with certain symptoms of PTSD.

It is important to remember that even if you have one of these risk factors, it doesn't mean that you are going to be aggressive. There are many other factors that go into whether or not someone displays aggressive behavior. Having one these risk factors only means that there is a greater chance of experiencing problems with anger. However, if you have one of these risk factors, you can reduce your risk for anger problems by learning effective ways of managing emotions.

Dealing with Anger

Anger can be a very difficult emotion to deal with. However, you can do a number of things to better manage anger. First, addressing symptoms of PTSD through therapy may also help reduce feelings of anger. Many treatments for PTSD even incorporate anger management skills. Even if you don't have PTSD, these skills can be helpful in your everyday life.

The National Center for PTSD also provides some excellent information on the relationship between PTSD and anger, as well as a number of suggestions on how to better manage anger and aggressive behavior.

Sources:

Elbogen, E.B., Wagner, H.R., Fuller, S.R., Calhoun, P.S., Kinneer, P.M., MMIRECC Workgroup, & Beckham, J.C. (2010). Correlates of anger and hostility in Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans. American Journal of Psychiatry, 167, 1051-1058.

Erbes, C., Westermeyer, J., Engdahl, B., & Johnsen, E. (2007). Posttraumatic stress disorder and service utilization in a sample of service members from Iraq and Afghanistan. Military Medicine, 172, 359-363.

Hoge, C.W., Castro, C.A., Messer, S.C., McGurk, D., Cotting, D.I., & Koffman, R.L. (2004). Combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan: mental health problems and barriers to care. New England Journal of Medicine, 351, 13-22.

Jakupcak, M., Conybeare, D., Phelps, L., Hunt, S., Holmes, H.A., Felker, B., Klevens, M., & McFall, M.E. (2007). Anger, hostility, and aggression among Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans reporting PTSD and subthreshold PTSD. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 20, 945-954.

Tull, M.T., Jakupcak, M., Paulson, A., & Gratz, K.L. (2007). The role of emotional inexpressivity and experiential avoidance in the relationship between posttraumatic stress disorder symptom severity and aggressive behavior among men exposed to interpersonal violence. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping: An International Journal, 20, 337-351.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD)
  4. PTSD and the Military
  5. Info for OEF/OIF Veterans
  6. Anger in Veterans - Anger in OEF/OIF Veterans

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