Does Alcohol Reduce Death from Traumatic Brain Injury?

Does alcohol reduce death from traumatic brain injury? It has long appeared that having alcohol can reduce death from traumatic brain injury if it is in the bloodstream at the time of injury. Researchers decided to review the existing medical evidence.


alcohol reduce deathThey searched eight major databases covering a 13 year period. They looked for studies reporting positive or negative blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at time of hospital admission. Eleven studies with 95,941 patients were found. Of those patients, 42% were positive and 58% were negative for BAC. An overall death rate of 12% among all cases of moderate to severe traumatic brain injury occurred.

Patients with positive BAC were much more likely to survive their injuries.

Traumatic Brain Injury

This is important. Traumatic brain injury is very serious.

  • About 2,500,000 people in the U.S. suffer a traumatic brain injury every year.
  • It’s involved in almost one-third of injury deaths in the country.
  • The risk is especially high for children and older adults.

For those who survive, the effects of  traumatic brain injury can be life-changing. They include poor

  • Vision.
  • Hearing.
  • Memory.
  • Thinking ability.
  • Movement control.
  • Emotional control.


Most patients admitted to a hospital for traumatic brain injury have no BAC. This had led some doctors to propose administering alcohol to such patients to increase their chance of survival.1

Bottom line.  Does alcohol reduce death from traumatic brain injury? Research strongly suggests that it does. An that it does so significantly.


Raj, R., et al. Alcohol and mortality after moderate to severe traumatic brain injury: a meta-analysis of observational studies. J Neurosurg, 2015, ePub.PMID: 26495950.


Readings: Can Alcohol Reduce Death from Traumatic Brain Injury?

Dwyer, H. The brain.  Tucson: Brown Bear,  2010.

Kraus, J., et al. Blood alcohol tests, prevalence of involvement, and outcomes following brain injury. Am J Pub Hlth., 1989, 79(3), 294-299.

Nath, F., et al. Alcohol and traumatic brain damage, Injury, 1986, 17(3), 150-153.

Salim, A., et al. Alcohol and 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.

U.S. News and World Report. Alcohol may help protect trauma patients: researchers theorize it might change the body’s chemical response to injury. U.S. News and World Report, Oct, 1, 2009.

Ward, R.E., et al. Effects of ethanol ingestion on the severity and outcome of trauma. Am J Surg, 1982, 144(1), 153-157.

Yaghoubian, A., et al. Elevated blood alcohol level may be protective of trauma patient mortality. Am Surg, 2009, 75(10), 950-953.

  1. Tien, ibid.