Alcohol drinkers three times as likely to die from injury

February 10, 2005

People who regularly drink alcohol are three times as likely to die from injury as are non-drinkers and former drinkers of alcohol, according to new research from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. This is the first study to examine drinking behavior in relation to all major categories of injuries. In particular, the study authors found that the risk of drowning was most strongly related to current drinkers. The study will be published in the March 2005 issue of Accident Analysis and Prevention.

"Previous studies have focused on the effect of acute alcohol use on the risk of injury. We looked at the relationship between a person's usual drinking behavior and the major categories of fatal injury," said Li-Hui Chen, PhD, lead author of the study and an assistant scientist in the Bloomberg School of Public Health's Department of Health Policy and Management.

The researchers reviewed data from two nationwide surveys: 5,549 people who died of injury and were included in the 1993 National Mortality Followback Survey, and 42,698 people who participated in the 1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey. The Hopkins researchers examined the relationship between usual drinking behavior and the major categories of injury: motor vehicle injuries; unintentional falls, fire deaths, drowning and poisoning; suicide by poisoning, firearm and hanging, strangulation or suffocation; firearm-related homicide; and other homicide.

The researchers found that drinkers, defined as anyone who had at least 12 drinks in the survey year, had a higher risk of dying from each cause of injury when compared to non-drinkers and former drinkers. The greatest increase in risk was for drowning: drinkers were 3.6 times as likely to drown as non-drinkers. The researchers also learned that female drinkers had a greater increase in risk of committing suicide or homicide than male drinkers. The study authors said these gender differences might be due to physiological factors. Past studies have shown that for the same alcohol intake, blood alcohol concentrations rise more quickly, reach a higher peak and stay elevated for a longer time in women.

"Our study found that 54 to 64 percent of injury deaths occur in current drinkers. It is clear that drinking is associated with a significantly increased risk of all types of fatal injury. Falls may be an exception because most fall deaths occur in the elderly, who are less likely to be drinkers. Our most notable finding was that current drinking increased the risk more for drowning than for other fatal injuries," said co-author Susan P. Baker, MPH, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The researchers hope that their study leads to greater understanding and awareness of the role of alcohol consumption in all fatal injuries.
-end-
The study authors were supported in part by grants from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

"Drinking history and risk of fatal injury: Comparison among specific injury causes" was authored by Li-Hui Chen, Susan P. Baker and Guohua Li.

For public health news updated throughout the day, visit www.jhsph.edu/PublicHealthNews.

Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

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