Long-Term Health Effects of World Trade Center Disaster

June 18, 2014

Following the attack on the World Trade Center, several studies have investigated physical and mental health consequences of exposure to the events of 9/11, yet little information tracked long-term health behaviors as a result of 9/11 exposure. Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center, the Mailman School of Public Health, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYCDOHMH) examined the relationship between the intensity of 9/11-related exposures and frequent binge drinking among enrollees in the World Trade Center Health Registry five years after the event, finding that frequent binge drinking was significantly associated with increasing 9/11 exposure. The role of PTSD in frequent binge drinking was also examined.

For this study, Registry participants included 41,284 Lower Manhattan residents, workers, passersby, and rescue/recovery workers aged 18 or older who did not have a PTSD diagnosis prior to  9/11. Frequent binge drinking was defined as consuming five or more drinks on five or more occasions in the prior 30 days. Probable PTSD was defined as scoring 44 or greater on the PTSD Checklist.

Those with very high and high exposures had a significantly higher prevalence of frequent binge drinking (13.7% and 9.8%, respectively) than those with medium and low exposures (7.5% and 4.4%, respectively). Very high and high exposures were associated with frequent binge drinking in both the PTSD and non-PTSD subgroups.

The prevalence of frequent binge drinking was also higher among rescue and recovery workers (9.8%) than lower Manhattan residents (5.9%) and Lower Manhattan area workers/passers-by (6.2%). Frequent binge drinking was also significantly elevated among those with PTSD (14.8%) compared to those without PTSD (6.3%).

“The findings show robustly that severity of exposure to 9/11/2001 events in New York City predicted risk for binge drinking five to six years later,” said senior author Deborah Hasin, PhD, professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health. “Many studies have shown a relationship between adult trauma and drinking outcomes, but the present study contributes important new information by showing that the relationship between a major trauma and drinking persists over many years.” 

Steven Stellman, PhD, MPH, associate professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, who is also with the NYCDOHMH, said, ‎"Our findings are relevant for long-term post 9/11 monitoring and treatment under existing federally funded healthcare services for survivors and responders, and more broadly for psychological and alcohol screening and counseling following a disaster." Katherine Keyes, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of Epidemiology, was also a co-author of the paper.

Read the study findings in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

The study was supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health, the National Institutes of Health, the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

About Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health

Founded in 1922, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its over 450 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,300 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master’s and doctoral degree programs. The Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers including ICAP (formerly the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs) and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit www.mailman.columbia.edu