The researchers also found that the level of depression among those who drank regularly was significantly lower about a year after the operation, compared to those who did not consume alcohol.
"This may be a case of a self-fulfilling prophecy," says the study's Israeli researcher, Prof. Daphna Canetti of the University of Haifa's School of Political Science. "Whoever drinks alcohol is more open in social settings, thereby allowing friends and family members to strengthen him and reduce the levels of depression."
Previous studies have focused on the negative aspects of alcohol consumption. This time, the researchers asked universities in the United States and the University of Haifa to look into the link between social support from family and friends, alcohol consumption and a state of depression, in light of Operation Cast Lead.
Some 1,300 Israeli adults, Jews and Arabs who are dealing intensively with terror and war, participated in the study, which was funded by the American National Institute on Mental Health.
The respondents were asked about their exposure to terror or rocket fire, financial damage in light of acts of terror or bombings, their ability to turn to friends and relative in order to deal with the situation, consumption of alcohol – mainly wine and beer, and their political views.
The participants answered these questions twice: Once during Operation Cast Lead, and again about 10 months later. The researchers neutralized different variables which could have affected the results, such as demography, political ideology and health issues, and examined only the influence of alcohol consumption.
The findings pointed to a higher level of social support among all the respondents, both from their family members and from their friends, which led to a drop in depression. Among those who consumed alcohol at least once a week, the level of depression was much lower compared to those who rarely or never consumed alcohol.
The researchers also found lower levels of depression after 10 months among those who consumed alcohol regularly, pointing to a long-term and permanent effect.
"Those who drank alcohol at least once a week benefitted more from the social support," explains Prof. Canetti. "In other words, alcohol consumption made the social support more efficient in terms of reducing the depression level."
According to the researchers, a possible explanation of this phenomenon stems from the theory that people consume alcohol expecting to make gains, mainly social ones. Therefore, it's likely that during a crisis like the rocket fire from Gaza they tend to engage in "social drinking" with friends and family, and will be more open to the calming influence of social support.
The researchers stress that previous studies point to the negative effects of heavy alcohol consumption, and so they assume that the positive effects are linked to low levels of controlled alcohol consumption.
"We have no doubt that there is a certain level in which alcohol consumption no longer has a positive effect on the social support," they concluded. "Additional research is warranted to determine exactly where this borderline passes. It's important to note, however, that the new finding about the positive link between regular alcohol consumption and reduced depression is highly important both on from a research aspect and from a therapeutic level."