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Original Research

Exposure to traumatic events, prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder and alcohol abuse in Aboriginal communities

Submitted: 17 November 2010
Revised: 20 June 2012
Published: 12 October 2012

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Author(s) : Nadew GT.

Gelaye Nadew

Citation: Nadew GT.  Exposure to traumatic events, prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder and alcohol abuse in Aboriginal communities. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2012; 12: 1667. Available: (Accessed 17 October 2017)


Introduction:  Generations of Aboriginal people have been exposed to strings of traumatic events with devastating psychosocial health consequences, including psychiatric morbidities and mortalities, and medical complications. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric morbidity directly linked to traumatic events. Despite research findings indicating traumatic exposure and resultant PTSD in Indigenous communities, little attention has been given to this condition in mental healthcare delivery. Consequently, clinical and psychosocial interventions are misguided and failed to deliver positive outcomes. The objective of this study is to explore the relationship between exposure to traumatic events, prevalence of PTSD and alcohol abuse in remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.
Methods:  A combination of structured clinical interview and multiple survey questionnaires - Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI), and Impact of Events Scale (IES), Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT) and Indigenous Trauma Profile (ITP) - were administered to 221 Indigenous participants aged 18 to 65 years.
Results:  The overwhelming majority, 97.3% (n=215) of participants were exposed to traumatic events. Analysis of CIDI results using DSM-IV diagnostic criteria shows a life time prevalence of 55.2% (n=122) for PTSD, 20% (n=44) for major depression (recurrent) and 2.3% (n=5) for a single episode. A total of 96% (n=212) participants reported consuming a drink containing alcohol and 73.8% (n=163) met diagnostic criteria for alcohol use related disorders, abuse and dependence. Of participants who met the PTSD diagnostic criteria, 91% (n=111) met diagnostic criteria for alcohol use related disorders. Other impacts of trauma such as other anxiety disorders, dysthymic disorder and substances abuses were also identified.
Conclusion:  The rate of exposure to traumatic events and prevalence of PTSD are disproportionately higher in the communities studied than the national average and one of the highest recorded in survivors of specific traumatic events in the world. A very high rate of alcohol abuse and dependence in participants who met diagnostic criteria for PTSD demonstrates correlation between alcohol abuse and PTSD. It also suggests that alcohol is used as self-medication.  

Key words: Australia, historical, Indigenous health, Stolen Generation, transgenerational trauma.

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