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Alcohol and Accidents

Alcohol and Accidents

Accidents will happen. And they seem to happen easier and more often to people who've been drinking. According to Louis W. Sullivan, M.D., former Secretary of Health and Human Services, "Half of all injuries could be avoided by not drinking when you are driving, boating, operating machinery, feeling angry, or using a firearm."

Trauma suffered in accidents of various kinds is a major cause of death and injury in this country. Every year, more than 140,000 Americans die from injuries, and almost one person in three suffers a non-fatal injury serious enough to require medical attention or cause temporary disability.

Of course, alcohol isn't involved in all of these cases, but it does play a significant role in trauma. Research indicates that alcohol intoxication is associated with:

  • 40-50% of traffic fatalities
  • 25-30% of non-fatal motor vehicle injuries
  • Up to 64% of fires and burns
  • 48% of hypothermia and frostbite cases
  • Approximately 20% of completed suicides.

Although not necessarily at the level of intoxication, alcohol also is a factor in:

  • 40% or more of falls
  • Almost 50% of homicides (victim or perpetrator).

In addition, studies show that between 20-37% of all emergency room trauma cases involved alcohol use or abuse, and that between 20-25% of all persons hospitalized with an injury can be identified as problem drinkers or alcoholics.

Alcohol abusers increase their risk of accident in two ways: greater likelihood of injury and greater seriousness of injury.

First, an alcohol abuser is more likely to be involved in a trauma event than a sober person; in other words, heavy drinkers have a higher risk for accidents than non-drinkers.

Second, there's a greater chance that a drinker will be hurt more seriously than a non-drinker. Most research findings indicate a relationship between alcohol use and severity of injury. (This goes against the common belief that drunk persons are less likely to be seriously hurt in an accident because they are "relaxed.")

Some other trauma statistics show that alcohol is associated with:

  • 70% of attempted suicides
  • 47-65% of adult drownings
  • 59% of fatal falls

Among males defined as heavy drinkers, the risk of accidental death is estimated at 2.5 to 8 times greater than among the general population. Further, alcoholics are nearly 5 times more likely to die in motor vehicle crashes, 10 times more likely to be fire or burn victims, and 16 times more likely to die in falls.

(One notable example of death by falling is that of actor William Holden, who suffered a fatal head injury in a fall at his home in 1981. The coroner's report showed the amount of alcohol in his bloodstream at the time of death was equal to ten drinks.)

Injuries and deaths related to alcohol and other drugs exact a tremendous toll on American society. The number of potential years of life lost equals those lost to cancer, and is greater than those lost to heart disease, the two leading causes of death in this country. These trauma incidents are also costly economically; it's estimated that alcohol-related injuries alone come to $47 billion every year.

A large number of college students, many who are below the drinking age, use alcohol in varying degrees. On campus, the peer pressure to drink can be intense. If you hope to avoid accidents caused by alcohol and/or drug use, the best solution is to make healthy choices with the only life you'll ever have. Getting drunk doesn't need to be a rite of passage, and hangovers aren't required for graduation.