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People who don't drink may still suffer harms from alcohol, study suggests

March 18, 2019

Harms to people resulting from alcohol consumption by others in Germany in 2014 are assessed in a study published in the open access journal BMC Medicine.

Much of the research into alcohol-associated harms investigates harm to the drinker, not to other individuals. Researchers at Institute for Therapy Research in Bayern, Germany, estimated the harms caused to others by alcohol during pregnancy, in road traffic accidents, and as a result of interpersonal violence. The authors conclude that the harmful effects of alcohol on people other than the drinker need to be recognized as a public health problem, and effective ways of preventing such harms are required.

Dr Ludwig Kraus, the corresponding author, said: "This study estimates some of the most severe harms that alcohol use may cause to other people than the drinker, namely fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), road traffic fatalities caused by drunk drivers, and deaths resulting from alcohol-attributable interpersonal violence."

The authors found that alcohol was responsible for 1,214 (45.1%) third-party road traffic deaths and 55 (14.9%) interpersonal violence deaths, and was implicated in 2,930 incidences of FAS and 12,650 cases of FASD. The authors note that FAS and FASD are not the only potential consequences of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Overall, these results indicate that alcohol may not only cause harm to the drinker, but also substantial harm to third parties.

Dr Kraus said: "Although the estimates across the three harm domains are not directly comparable, the results suggest that alcohol use in pregnancy followed by road traffic fatalities account for significantly more harm to others than alcohol-related violence."

To investigate the potential harm caused by alcohol to third parties, the authors examined survey data on the prevalence of alcohol use during pregnancy to estimate incidences of FAS and FASD in Germany. Cause-of-death statistics provided estimates of third party traffic deaths and interpersonal violence deaths thought to be caused by alcohol.

The authors caution that accurately assessing the prevalence and extent of alcohol use during pregnancy in Germany is challenging as the data are self-reported and so may be vulnerable to bias or misremembering.

Dr Kraus said: "Although measures such as pricing policies or limiting the marketing of alcoholic beverages are unpopular, targeted measures addressing particular populations at risk, such as women of childbearing age or road users, may help to reduce harms to others as well as harms to the drinker."
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Anne Korn
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BMC
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E: anne.korn@biomedcentral.com

Notes to editor:

1. Research article:

Quantifying harms to others due to alcohol consumption in Germany: a register-based study
Kraus et al. BMC Medicine 2019
DOI: 10.1186/s12916-019-1290-0

For an embargoed copy of the research article, please contact Anne Korn at BMC.

After the embargo lifts, the article will be available here: https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-019-1290-0

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BMC's open access policy.

2. BMC Medicine is the flagship medical journal of the BMC series. An open access, open peer-reviewed general medical journal, BMC Medicine publishes outstanding and influential research in all areas of clinical practice, translational medicine, medical and health advances, public health, global health, policy, and general topics of interest to the biomedical and sociomedical professional communities. We also publish stimulating debates and reviews as well as unique forum articles and concise tutorials.

3. A pioneer of open access publishing, BMC has an evolving portfolio of high quality peer-reviewed journals including broad interest titles such as BMC Biology and BMC Medicine, specialist journals such as Malaria Journal and Microbiome, and the BMC series. At BMC, research is always in progress. We are committed to continual innovation to better support the needs of our communities, ensuring the integrity of the research we publish, and championing the benefits of open research. BMC is part of Springer Nature, giving us greater opportunities to help authors connect and advance discoveries across the world.

BioMed Central

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