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Heavy, moderate drinkers at increased injury risk

October 15, 2011 - Washington

Alcohol consumption greatly increases risk for serious injury among heavy and moderate drinkers, according to new research.

The study authors combined national alcohol consumption data with alcohol metabolism rates to estimate hours that heavy drinkers versus other drinkers and non-drinkers spent as "alcohol positive" versus "alcohol negative" within one calendar year.

Results showed that alcohol consumption is a major cause of hospitalized injury. Even though heavy drinkers generally lead risky lifestyles, and even though they tolerate alcohol better than most drinkers, their injury risks still tripled when they drank.

"Risk during hours that people were alcohol-positive was 4.5 times their risk when sober," said Ted R. Miller, a senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and corresponding author for the study.

"A heavy drinker is three times more likely to be injured during an alcohol-positive than a sober hour. Possibly due to hangover effects, heavy drinkers also are 1.35 times as likely as other people to be injured when sober. Alcohol especially raises risk for assault, near drowning, non-elderly fall, and pedestrian injuries.

"Non-heavy drinkers also seem to have a higher risk of injury-related hospitalization when alcohol positive compared to alcohol-positive heavy drinkers," said Cheryl J. Cherpitel, a senior scientist with the Alcohol Research Group

This is "likely due to their not being accustomed to alcohol's effects, while heavier drinkers have developed a tolerance to alcohol and are therefore less affected by the same amount of alcohol.

"It is also possible that heavier drinkers may have consumed so much alcohol that they are unable to place themselves in risky situations that may result in injury," she added.

The study will be published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.


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