Alcohol may have 'protective effect' in hospital - study

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

Alcohol may have a "protective effect", a US researcher says, after a study found injured patients are less likely to die in hospital if they have alcohol in their blood.

However the study's author, injury epidemiologist Lee Friedman, stressed the findings were not a cause to drink, as alcohol intoxication - even minor inebriation - is associated with an increased risk of being injured.

"However, after an injury, if you are intoxicated there seems to be a pretty substantial protective effect," said Friedman, who is assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Illinois.

"The more alcohol you have in your system, the more the protective effect."

Friedman analysed Illinois Trauma Registry data for 190,612 patients treated at trauma centres between 1995 and 2009 who were tested for blood alcohol content, which ranged from zero to 0.5 percent at the time they were admitted to the trauma unit.

Of these, 6733 died in hospital.

Friedman looked at the relationship between alcohol dosage and in-hospital mortality following traumatic injuries such as fractures, internal injuries and open wounds.

Surprisingly, he found alcohol benefited patients across the range of injuries, with burns the only exception.

"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."

The study will be published in the December issue of the journal Alcohol (

Friedman said it is important for clinicians to recognise intoxicated patients who arrive at emergency departments, but also to understand how alcohol might affect the course of treatment.

He said further research bio-mechanism of the protective effects of alcohol is needed, as if it could be understood, "we could then treat patients post-injury, either in the field or when they arrive at the hospital, with drugs that mimic alcohol".


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