New Yorkers Drank and Smoked More After 9/11

Smoking and Drinking Rates Remained High 6 Months After Terrorist Attacks

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on March 19, 2004
From the WebMD Archives

March 19, 2004 -- New Yorkers drank and smoked more in the months following the 9/11 terrorist attacks than they did a month before the tragedy.

A new study shows that 30% of Manhattan residents said they drank more alcohol, smoked more cigarettes, and used more marijuana in the first month after 9/11, and that number only dropped slightly to 27% six months later.

Researchers say the higher than normal rates of substance use persisted in the months after 9/11 despite a decline in symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among New Yorkers.

"Some residents who may have initially sought cigarettes, alcohol, or marijuana to cope with the stress have maintained a higher use despite a trend toward psychological symptom resolution," write researcher David Vlahov, PhD, of the Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies at the New York Academy of Medicine, and colleagues.

"These sustained increases in substance use following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks suggest potential long-term health consequences as a result of disasters," they write.

Substance Use Climbs in Post-9/11 New York

In the study, which appears in the February issue of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers surveyed a randomly selected group of 988 Manhattan residents by phone one month after Sept. 11, 2001 and another group of 854 residents six months later.

Researchers asked them about recent use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana and levels of use in the month before 9/11.

More than 30% said they had increased their substance use in the month after the terrorist attacks, and 27% reported an increase six months later.

Of those who increased alcohol use, 13% said they drank at least one more drink per day, and 36% of smokers said they were smoking at least an extra pack per week.

Researchers found no differences in substance use among those residents who had been directly affected by the attacks (those who were injured, lost a loved one or job, or who were involved in rescue efforts).

Researchers say the results merit further attention, but say it's too soon to tell whether the upswing in smoking and drinking will lead to a rise in substance abuse and dependence in post-9/11 New York City.