Study: People Drunk on Arrival to the E.R. Have a Higher Survival Rate

In-hospital mortality from traumatic injuries decreased with higher blood alcohol content.

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PROBLEM: Sure, being intoxicated increases your odds of ending the evening in the ER, with the association strengthened for those who alcohol makes want to climb things and/or jump from high places. If you insist on driving while drunk, it's basically guaranteed. But how does having alcohol in your system affect your chances of making it back out alive?

METHODOLOGY: Lee Friedman of the UIC School of Public Health analyzed data from the Illinois Trauma Registry, encompassing 190,612 patients who were treated at trauma centers and tested for blood alcohol content (BAC) between 1995 and 2005. He looked specifically at the relationship between BAC and in-hospital mortality following physical injuries.

RESULTS: For the 6,733 deaths that occurred in the trauma units, increased BAC was associated with increased odds of survival -- there was up to a 50 percent reduction in fatalities for those at the highest levels of intoxication. Controlling for a myriad of personal and medical factors, this relationship was strongest for those who had suffered penetrating injuries; similar curves were seen for people with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, internal injuries in the torso, and blunt injuries. No association was found for people with burn injuries. 

Patients with no alcohol in their blood were also more likely to suffer from a number of cardiac complications, including heart attacks.

CONCLUSION: Friedman's caveat-heavy conclusion is that "blood alcohol concentration is strongly associated with lower in-hospital mortality among those that survive long enough to receive treatment in specialized trauma units" (emphasis added). He added, "The more alcohol in your system, the more the protective effect."

IMPLICATIONS: That second part seems like a huge consideration, doesn't it? The BACs recorded by the unit went up to 0.5, which is potentially fatal on its own. Aside from the chance that very drunk people are just injuring themselves badly enough that they're dying before they make it to the hospital, there's also a chance that because they're drunk, their conditions appear to be more serious and they're more likely to be sent to the trauma unit in the first place. 

But, if there does turn out to be something about alcohol that's providing a protective effect for trauma patients, the author suggests that we can develop other treatments that mirror its benefits. Further research definitely needs to be done. For now, stay away from flaming shots.

The full study, "Dose-response relationship between in-hospital mortality and alcohol following acute injury" is published in the journal Alcohol.

Presented by

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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