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Distress tolerance plays role in alcohol use and abuse among firefighters

New findings by a University of Houston psychology professor indicate that among firefighters, distress tolerance amplifies associations between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and alcohol use severity. In the world of psychology, distress tolerance is your actual or perceived ability to withstand emotional distress. It is surviving -- and knowing you can survive -- an emotional incident.

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In this study, Vujanovic gathered data from 652 mostly-male trauma-exposed firefighters, whose median age is 38. All admitted to some alcohol use. The findings were confirmed after adjusting for romantic relationship status, number of years in the fire service, occupational stress and trauma load. This is the first study to concurrently examine these variables among firefighters.

"Our study has great potential to inform intervention efforts for this vulnerable, understudied population," said Maya Zegel, psychology doctoral student and the paper s first author, who said that targeting distress tolerance in therapy can make a big difference.

The study comes at a time when the mental health of firefighters has come into much needed focus, said Vujanovic. In 2017 in the United States, 103 firefighters committed suicide, whereas 93 firefighters died in the line of duty, but that might only represent about 40% of the suicide deaths according to a Ruderman Family Foundation study, which indicates firefighter suicides are underreported.

Materials provided by University of Houston . Original written by Laurie Fickman. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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