Odds for Early Death Rise After Severe Injury Linked to Alcohol

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Key Takeaways

  • Injuries are a common consequence of drinking too much and may be deadly

  • People are five times more likely to die in the coming year if injuries sustained while intoxicated send them to the emergency room

  • Problematic alcohol use has increased in recent years, especially during the pandemic

MONDAY, Dec. 12, 2022 (HealthDay News) -- Before you toast the holiday season with too much alcohol, here's a sobering thought.

Folks who get injured severely enough while intoxicated to require hospital treatment are five times more likely to die in the coming year, according to new research published in Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The same is true of folks with alcohol use disorders.

"Injuries are one of the most immediate hazards of problematic drinking behavior," said lead researcher Sidra Goldman-Mellor, an assistant professor of public health at the University of California, Merced.

"In addition to getting injured from things like car accidents and falls, some people may get injured in fights or even engage in self-harm after they've been drinking," she said in a journal news release.

"However, we actually know very little about what happens to people with an alcohol use disorder after they've had a serious injury," Goldman-Mellor said. "So, we wanted to investigate the most important outcome of all: How likely they were to die?"

For the study, she and her colleagues looked at 10 million visits to emergency rooms between 2009 and 2012 by California residents ages 10 and older.

Of those, more than 262,000 had an injury that wasn't fatal initially and either had a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder or were intoxicated at the time.

In all, close to 77% of the injuries were unintentional, according to the records. Another 13.2% were due to assault; 7.9% to self-harm, and 2.1% with undetermined intent.

More than 13,000 of these patients died within 12 months of their hospital visit -- 5% of the group. The death rate was nearly 5,205 per 100,000.

This was more than five times the rate for the rest of the California population, matched for age, gender, race and ethnicity.

"Injuries associated with alcohol use disorders are a public health problem in their own right, but now we know that they’re also associated with a substantially increased risk of death," Goldman-Mellor said. "Most people who struggle with alcohol misuse don't get the help they need."

Problematic alcohol use has increased over the last several years, especially during the pandemic, she noted.

Researchers suspect that many of the patients were already quite sick when they first visited the hospital and their health declined after that.

Emergency departments are one place where folks with alcohol problems might be able to get additional help, Goldman-Mellor said. Some hospitals may be able to connect patients to resources such as outpatient programs integrating substance use treatment with care for their other chronic health conditions.

"Hopefully, studies like ours can be used to increase resources for getting all such patients connected with comprehensive care, both for their substance use and general health," she said.

More information

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more on alcohol use disorder.

SOURCE: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, news release, Dec. 12, 2022

What This Means For You

Injuries associated with alcohol use are a public health problem and hospital emergency departments are one place where folks might find help.

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