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Post-9/11 in NYC, More Drinking

June 03, 2002|BENEDICT CAREY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One way to track the emotional impact of a national disaster, psychologists have found, is to follow alcohol and tobacco usage--and, by that measure, the attacks of Sept. 11 had a profound effect on New York City residents.

During the second month after the attack, researchers interviewed 988 adults living in Manhattan, asking how much they were smoking and drinking compared with the first week of September. About 25% of those surveyed said they were drinking more than usual, about 10% were lighting up more frequently and 3% were smoking more marijuana than they had before the attack. The study was published in Saturday's American Journal of Epidemiology.

"I think this gives us the first clear idea to what extent entire community was affected, not just rescue workers and victims' families," said lead author David Vlahov, director of the center for urban epidemiological studies at the New York Academy of Medicine, a public health nonprofit organization..

The numbers echo results from a Gallup poll after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Compared with the people in Indiana, smokers and drinkers in Oklahoma City were twice as likely to drink and smoke more after the bombing. The Academy of Medicine survey was remarkably sensitive to location. People living below 14th Street, on the same side of the city as the World Trade Center towers, were twice as likely as those living above the street to increase their drinking or smoking, Vlahov said. That 14th Street also marked the security zone border around the downtown area, researchers say.

"Even if they weren't directly in danger, people living in that area certainly felt part of the war zone, so to speak, and would have felt violated," said Dr. Fred Gusman, education division director of the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Palo Alto.

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