March 24, 2009 The cost to society of physical injury related to alcohol consumption is immense – the link between severe alcohol intoxication, road accidents and violence is well established. Now new research from the Swedish Karolinska Institutet medical university indicates that most alcohol-related damage occurs after moderate consumption. While people who have drunk considerable quantities of alcohol suffer higher injury risk than people who have drunk only a little, the research shows the risk of suffering injury increases significantly after small amounts of alcohol as little as one glass.
In order to gain a more comprehensive picture of the damage caused by alcohol, Hervé Kuendig studied the association between consumption and injuries treated at an Accident & Emergency unit in Switzerland. His thesis is based on interviews with patients who were treated for injuries caused by violence or accidents.
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His results show that one in four of the injuries dealt with by the A&E unit had occurred after the consumption of alcohol, but also that this ratio varied widely at different times. Over 80 per cent of the injuries that had occurred on a Friday and Saturday night were alcohol-related.
His thesis also shows that the risk of suffering injury, for whatever reason, increased even after the consumption of small amounts of alcohol. Moreover, and hardly surprisingly, people who had drunk considerable quantities of alcohol suffered higher injury risk than people who had drunk only a little. However, the thesis also shows that most of the injuries that were judged to be due to alcohol occurred after only moderate consumption.
"My results suggest that preventative measures shouldn't be directed exclusively at individual high-volume consumers," says Hervé Kuendig. "The greatest benefit, in terms of injury-avoidance, can be gained from structural measures that affect the normal consumption of alcohol in society."
Kuendig's research was financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), the Swiss Federal Office for Public Health (FOPH), the Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Problems (SIPA) and the Alcohol Treatment Center - Lausanne University Hospital.
Doctoral thesis: Empty glasses and broken bones; Epidemiological studies on alcohol and injuries treated at an emergency department in Switzerland, Hervé Kuendig, Department of Public Health Sciences, Karolinska Institutet. Public defence will take place in Stockholm on Friday 27 March 2009. Full thesis downloadable here.