Over the years, numerous researchers have concluded that people who consume alcohol have heightened risks for getting injured. However, these researchers commonly focus on emergency room cases and don’t examine the connection between alcohol intake and injuries that don’t require emergency treatment. In a study published in April 2014 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from the Alcohol Research Group used information from a periodic project called the National Alcohol Surveys to compare the rates of alcohol-related injuries treated in an emergency room to the rates of such injuries not treated in an emergency room. The researchers also looked at some of the factors that increase the likelihood that a person will experience an alcohol-related injury.
Alcohol intoxication alters one’s ability to think clearly, maintain spatial awareness, coordinate body movements and control impulsive behavior. While people affected by legally defined drunkenness (a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher) clearly suffer from these and other impairments, the first symptoms of alcohol-related incapacitation appear well before drunkenness is reached. Unsurprisingly, the mental and physical consequences of alcohol intoxication leave affected individuals with unusually high levels of risk for injury. Some of these injuries result from motor vehicles or other serious accidents, while others stem from purposeful acts such as those associated with physical attacks, sexual assaults and intimate partner violence. Accidental and purposeful alcohol-related injuries are strongly associated with the widespread practice of binge drinking, a behavior that produces rapid drunkenness in a single bout of alcohol consumption. However, alcohol consumers who drink excessively but don’t binge drink also have increased risks for injury.
National Alcohol Surveys
The Alcohol Research Group is part of the California-based Public Health Institute, an organization that uses funding from the federal National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to, among other things, explore the societal impacts of various types of alcohol-related harm. Roughly every five years, the Alcohol Research Group conducts a National Alcohol Survey designed to identify specific alcohol-related risks in U.S. adults age 18 and older. The first version of this survey was conducted in 1964 and 1965; as of 2014, the most recent survey years were 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2009-2010.
Alcohol and Injury Rates
In the study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, the Alcohol Research Group researchers used data from the last four National Alcohol Surveys to analyze the settings in which treatments for alcohol-related injuries occur. All told, these four surveys included information gathered from 4,819 adults across the U.S. The researchers specifically wanted to know if people requiring injury treatment in an emergency room setting have greater risks for alcohol-related harm than people requiring injury treatment in a non-emergency setting or people who have injuries that don’t require treatment. To calculate the relative risks for all three types of injuries, they looked for indications of alcohol consumption within a six-hour period before any given injury occurred.
The researchers concluded that, when all types of injuries are considered together, people who consume alcohol are only slightly more likely to experience an injury than people who don’t drink. People who receive treatment in a non-emergency setting actually have about a 25 percent smaller chance of being recent alcohol consumers than the rest of the population; in addition, individuals who have recently taken a drink and individuals who haven’t recently taken a drink are roughly equally as likely to experience injuries that don’t require treatment. However, recent alcohol consumers require treatment in an emergency room fully 46 percent more often than people who haven’t recently consumed alcohol.
The authors of the study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research note that certain demographic groups have unusually high chances of requiring treatment for alcohol-related injuries in both an emergency room and in non-emergency settings, as well unusually high chances of experiencing alcohol-related injuries that don’t require medical treatment. These groups include African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, young adults between the ages of 18 and 30, people affected by alcoholism, people involved in motor vehicle accidents and people who have injuries caused by piercing or cutting implements. However, the authors concluded that on the whole, alcohol is much more likely to play a role in injuries treated in an emergency room. In closing, they call for further, more detailed investigation of the factors that contribute to alcohol-related injuries.