November 20, 2012, 4:25 PM — Finally, a legitimate health benefit to excessive drinking!
Well, the author of a new study showing that the more alcohol seriously injured patients had in their blood, the less likely they were to die in the hospital might prefer we not put it that way.
"This study is not encouraging people to drink," University of Chicago injury epidemiologist Lee Friedman said in a statement. That, of course, is because drunk people are (among other things) more prone to getting hurt, what with their stumbling around and driving drunk and getting belligerent and what have you.
"However," he said, "after an injury, if you are intoxicated there seems to be a pretty substantial protective effect. The more alcohol you have in your system, the more the protective effect."
Friedman, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at UIC, conducted his study by analyzing Illinois Trauma Registry data for about 190,000 patients treated at trauma centers from 1995 through 2009 and tested for blood-alcohol content upon admission.
The study examined the relationship of alcohol dosage to in-hospital mortality following traumatic injuries such as fractures, internal injuries and open wounds. Alcohol benefited patients across the range of injuries, with burns as the only exception.
The benefit extended from the lowest blood alcohol concentration (below 0.1 percent) through the highest levels (up to 0.5 percent).
"At the higher levels of blood alcohol concentration, there was a reduction of almost 50 percent in hospital mortality rates," Friedman said. "This protective benefit persists even after taking into account injury severity and other factors known to be strongly associated with mortality following an injury."
Obviously, as Friedman emphasizes, this isn't a green light to a life of inebriation. Heavy alcohol consumption is extremely dangerous in the short- and long-term. So other than highlighting an interesting phenomenon, how can science use this research?
One way, Friedman suggests, is that by understanding the protective effects of booze in situations of bodily trauma, "we could then treat patients post-injury, either in the field or when they arrive at the hospital, with drugs that mimic alcohol."
The study is available on the website of the journal Alcohol and will appear in the December issue of the print edition.