Binge drinkers have highest risk of alcohol-related injury

February 22, 2006

Moderate drinkers who occasionally drink heavily are more likely to suffer an alcohol-related injury than chronic heavy drinkers, a Swiss study has found, and the risk is greatest during a bout of binge drinking.

"It's not only the amount of alcohol consumed that shapes the risk for injury, but also the usual consumption pattern," said lead researcher Gerhard Gmel. "At highest risk are those who usually consume moderately but sometimes binge drink. This is true for both sexes."

Gmel, of the Alcohol Treatment Center at the Lausanne University Hospital and the Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Problems, and colleagues screened 8,736 emergency department patients who had been admitted to the hospital's surgical ward during an 18-month period.

Their study, in the current issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, examines how the interaction among three aspects of drinking behavior -- average weekly consumption, binge-drinking episodes and the amount of alcohol consumed before hospital admission -- affects risk of injury.

Among all types of drinkers, the risk of injury increased with higher alcohol consumption in the 24 hours before hospital admission. But the greatest risk was among moderate drinkers who sometimes drank heavily and who had done so in the previous 24 hours.

During a bout of heavy drinking, moderate-drinking women were more than seven times as likely to be injured than women who never drank. Among moderate-drinking men who sometimes binged on alcohol, the odds of injury were more than six times greater during a binge compared to male non-drinkers.

"This study confirms what a lot of us think happens with risky drinking behavior," said Linda Degutis, associate professor of surgery and public health at Yale University.

Degutis said about 20 percent of adults in the United States fall into the category of hazardous and harmful drinkers. "These are people who are not physically dependent on alcohol, but they binge drink or have health or social consequences because of their drinking," she said.

According to Gmel, interventions that target only chronic high-volume drinkers will not be very effective in reducing injuries, because the majority of injuries occur in the much larger population of moderate drinkers.

"There are many effective preventive measures, including strict enforcement of drinking driving policies and responsible beverage serving," he said. "The most effective strategy would be a combined effort at the individual and societal levels. This would include targeting happy hours and other environments that encourage rapid consumption of large quantities of alcohol and changing social norms of what is acceptable drinking behavior."
-end-
By Kelly Griffin, Contributing Writer
Health Behavior News Service

Gmel G, et al. Alcohol-attributable injuries in admissions to a Swiss emergency room--an analysis of the link between volume of drinking, drinking patterns and pre-attendance drinking. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 30(3), 2006.

Center for Advancing Health

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