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Booze may buffer the blow, study shows

Stories about drunken drivers walking away from traffic accidents are not mere apocrypha. They show up in our Verdict & Settlement Reports.

Turns out, science may back up the notion that God protects drunks and fools. Alcohol intoxication – even at a low level – cushions the blow for a person suffering a traumatic injury, according to a new study reported from the University of Illinois.

Injury epidemiologist Lee Friedman analyzed Illinois Trauma Registry data for 190,612 patients treated at trauma centers between 1995 and 2009 who were tested for blood alcohol content. Their BAC ranged from 0 to 0.5 percent at the time they were admitted to the trauma unit, and the patients suffered injuries from a variety of sources.

Alcohol benefited patients across the range of injuries, including fractures, internal injuries and open wounds, with burns being the only exception.

One popular science website interpreted the results to mean that, “not only does an appreciable blood alcohol level seem to increase a trauma victim’s chances of survival after being admitted to a hospital, but that the drunker a victim is, the more likely he or she is to survive.”

Friedman called for more research into how the neuro-protective benefit from alcohol works. If the biological mechanism were better understood, it could lead to post-injury treatments in the field that mimic alcohol.

But the study is by no means a license to drink. Nearly 7,000 of the subjects died in the hospital.

Even for non-fatal trauma, the drinking may have caused the injury in the first place. Friedman cautions that even minor intoxication is associated with an increased risk of injury.
–By Deborah Elkins

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