Drinking alcohol and traumatic injury deaths. Does alcohol improve survival? Evidence strongly suggests that alcohol reduces death from traumatic injury. The reason may be that alcohol reduces damaging inflamation.
I. Traumatic Brain Injury
II. General Traumatic Injury
Most research finds that a positive blood alcohol concentration (BAC) helps patients survive traumatic injury. And this is true for both traumatic brain injury patients and those with other traumatic injuries.
For example, researchers studied over 38,000 patients with severe traumatic brain injuries. They found that those who tested positive for BAC were much more likely to survive. That’s in comparison to those with no alcohol in their bodies.
The relationship between alcohol consumption and survival remained after considering age, severity of injury, and other relevant factors.1
I. Traumatic Brain Injury
The after-effects such as swelling lead to more damage. This “secondary brain injury” can disable or kill the patient. However, low BAC reduces the extent of secondary brain damage.
The scientists suggest that alcohol might become part of the treatment for some patients if they have no BAC.2
Researchers made a lage study of brain injury in California. They found that as the BAC increased, hospital mortality went down. That, in spite the fact that those with higher BAC tended to have more serious injuries. Nevertheless, when this and other factors were controlled, a positive BAC was still strongly associated with survival.3
Researchers studied 38 consecutive head-injured patients admitted to the Glasgow Neurosurgical Unit. They found that BAC level had no impact on the outcome in such patients.4
Researchers analyzed 3,628 patients with head injuries at an urban level I trauma center. Of these, 556 had a positive BAC. Patients with low BAC (up to 0.08) had lower mortality. As did those with high BAC (0.10 or higher). But those with a BAC over 0.80 and up to 0.10 had higher mortality.5
Researchers examined data from patients with traumatic brain injury. They had been entered into the LA County Trauma System database. A total of 7,304 patients were evaluated with 3,219 testing positive for BAC. Those with alcohol in their systems had much higher survival rates.6
The same rersearch team again studied patients with moderate to severe traumatic brain injury. They had also been entered into the LA County Trauma System database. However, the researchers studied those vwho had been entered during a different four year period. BACs at time of hospital admission ranged from zero to over 0.23. The researchers controlled for relevant factors. Nevertheless, as BAC increased, mortality dropped.7
Scientists studied 80 patients with severe traumatic brain injury. Elevated BACs at hospital admission did not have any impact on outcome success.8
II. General Traumatic Injuries
Researchers studied all traffic crash patients treated in any of the 13 trauma centers in Los Angeles County. They did so for all 3,025 patients admitted during one calendar year. All had alcohol screening on admission.
The researchers found the survival rate much higher among those of with a BAC of 0.08 or higher.9
Level I Trauma Center
Researchers studied trauma patients admitted to an urban Level I trauma center over a five-year period. All were tested for BAC on admission. The researchers found a positive BAC linked to higher mortality.10
Other researchers looked at 7,985 patients admitted to a Level 1 trauma center. Eight percent had a positive BAC. Those patients had a 1% mortality rate. On the other hand, those with no alcohol in their blood had a 7% death rate.
Researchers adjusted for age and other factors. However, the protective effect of alcohol remained.11
Scientists studied 1,198 patients admitted to the emergency room for traumatic injuries. BAC was tested upon admission. Mortality was much lower in those who had been drinking. There were no other significant differences between posttive and negative BAC groups.12
III. Resources: Alcohol and Traumatic Injury Deaths
- Drinking Alcohol can Reduce Brain Damage in Head-Injury Patients
- Heart Attack Survival and Alcohol
- Alcohol May Reduce Heart Attack Damage
- Vodka Saves Man’s Life
- Alcohol and Health
- Does Alcohol Reduce Death from Traumatic Brain Injury?
- Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery: Drinking Alcohol Helps.
Band, J. Being-here: Thoughts about Life & Living after Surviving Your Traumatic Brain Injury. Ocala, FL: Atlantic, 2018.
CDC. Facts about Traumatic Brain Injury. Atlanta: CDC, 2006.
Jones, J. Headstrong: Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury. Berkeley: She Writes, 2019.
McDonald, S. Rebuilding Life after Brain Injury. NY: Routledge, 2019.
- Salim, A., et al. Positive serum ethanol level and mortality in moderate to severe traumatic brain injury, Arch Surg, 2009, 144(9), 865-871.
- Tien, H., et al. Association between alcohol and mortality in patients with severe traumatic head injury. Arch Surg, 2006, 141, 1185-1191.
- Kraus, J., et al. Blood alcohol tests and outcomes following brain injury. Am J Pub Health, 1989, 79(3), 294-9.
- Nath, F., et al. Alcohol and traumatic brain damage. Injur, 1986, 17(3), 150-3.
- Lin, H-S., et al. The effect of alcohol intoxication on mortality of blunt head injury. BioMed Res Int, 2014.
- Berry, C., et al. Serum ethanol levels in patients with moderate to severe traumatic brain injury influence outcomes. Am Surg, 2010, 76(10), 1067–70.
- Berry, C., et al. Correlating the blood alcohol concentration with outcome after traumatic brain injury. Too much is not a bad thing. Am Surg, 2011, 77(10), 1416–19.
- Alexander, S. The effects of admission alcohol level on outcomes after severe traumatic brain injury. J Neurotraum, 2004, 21(5), 575–83, 2004.
- Plurad, D., et al. Motor vehicle crashes: the association of alcohol consumption with outcomes. J Emerg Med, 2010, 38(1), 12–17.
- Swearingen, A., et al. Extreme blood alcohol level is associated with increased resource use. Am Surg, 2010, 76(1), 20–24.
- Yaghoubian, A., et al. Elevated blood alcohol level may be protective of trauma patient mortality. Am Surg, 2009, 75(10), 950-953.
- Ward, R., et al. Effects of ethanol ingestion on the outcome of trauma. Am J Surg, 1982, 144(1), 153-7.
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