The effects of alcohol abuse represent a massive burden to societies around the world. In fact, half of all alcohol-involved deaths stem from alcohol-related injury.
The Impact of Alcohol-Related Injury
When most people consider the bodily effects of excessive drinking, they usually picture an individual after years of drinking with a sick liver or impaired brain. However, much of heavy drinking’s impact occurs while the individual is drinking or drunk. Serious bodily injury, as a result of alcohol consumption, can affect the drinker as well as everyone around them. Over 5.2 million people die worldwide each year due to alcohol-related injuries; 3.2% of all deaths are caused by alcohol. Globally, the poorest countries experience 90% of all alcohol-related injuries that lead to death. In the US, alcohol-related injury is the third leading cause of preventable death.
Estimating Alcohol’s Involvement in Injuries
The number of people drinking, and the total amount consumed, has remained the same for some time according to studies of liquor sales. However, a percentage of individuals have increased the intensity of their drinking, contributing to a rise in injury and death. People of all ages and backgrounds have been injured by excessive drinking – theirs or others. Alcohol accounts for 10-18% of emergency room visits; a majority of these visits are for head injuries. The rate of ER visits climbed almost 50% between 2006 and 2014. On average, there are 210,000 more ER visits linked to alcohol each year. Alcohol abuse has been described as a “significant burden on our healthcare system” – to the tune of $15.3 billion annually – by leaders of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA). Moreover, more women and middle-aged or older Americans are visiting ERs for alcohol-related injury than before.
Age groups that saw the sharpest increase in rates of injury include 25- to 34-year-olds and 55- to 64-year-olds. Still, college students continue to drink more than people of the same age not enrolled in college. Each year, an estimated 1,825 college students between 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries. And, an average of one-third of fatal and nonfatal falls involve alcohol (though any fall has the potential to be fatal for the elderly). Approximately 88,000 Americans die every year from alcohol-related causes.
Middle- and low-income people are more likely to be affected by alcohol-related injury due to:
- Increasing rates of drinking
- Extremely high rates of risky or violent behaviors that lead to injury
- Limited access to medical services
- Insufficient public policies surrounding liquor sales and consumption
Alcohol and Serious Bodily Injury Statistics
Alcohol causes 3.2% of all deaths worldwide every year.
In 1500 B.C.E., an Egyptian papyrus cautioned readers that heavy drinking leads to falls and broken bones.
In 2010, underage drinking resulted in approximately 189,000 emergency room visits due to injury.
Types of Alcohol-Related Injury
Predominantly, alcohol-related injuries are classified as either intentional (i.e. acts of violence) or unintentional (i.e. car wrecks, falls, drownings, burns, et cetera). Unintentional injuries make up the majority of all alcohol-related deaths (32%), while intentional injuries account for 13.7%. Intentional injuries and motor vehicle accidents, in particular, have the highest rates of injury and fatalities and represent the most danger to society. Generally, the severity of most injuries depends on the concentration of alcohol in the blood at the time of injury.
Drunk Driving and Alcohol-Related Injury
Each day, 29 people die as a result of drunk driving. A third of all traffic-related deaths involve alcohol, and drunk driving is the number one cause of death among teenagers. Clearly, alcohol and driving create a serious and fatal threat to society. The potential for death is much higher for drunk driving incidents compared to other types of alcohol-related injury. Drinking and driving is unsafe not only due to mental impairment, but because of the risky behaviors often associated with it. Many victims of drunk driving wear neither seatbelts nor motorcycle helmets (25% of motorcyclists killed in wrecks had a BAC of 0.08% or more). Furthermore, 54% of children involved in alcohol-related traffic accidents were in the car with the drunk driver.
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Alcohol and Acts of Violence
While drunk driving directly contributes to more deaths statistically, violence as a result of drinking causes more injuries. In fact, alcohol contributes to more cases of physical violence than any other illicit substance. Rape, murder, assault, and child and spousal abuse are all closely linked to excessive drinking. More than 3 million alcohol-related incidents of criminal violence occur annually in the US. Half of all murders and assaults involve drinking by at least one individual involved. What’s more, alcohol is even more likely to be a factor in criminally violent acts when the victim and attacker already know each other.
Almost 500,000 alcohol-related incidents of violence occur between intimate partners every year.
Over 118,000 incidents of family violence (excluding spousal) include alcohol annually.
Among acquaintances, 744,00 incidents of alcohol-related violence occur annually.
Injuries at Home Due to Alcohol
A surprising number of injuries in the home involve alcohol (often revealed by the coroner’s report). Between 22% and 30% of nonfatal injuries in the home involve alcohol. Of those injuries, 10% involve a blood alcohol level over the legal limit. Falls and burns from fires are other common injuries resulting from alcohol consumption. In particular, falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injury in the US. The likelihood of falling skyrockets 60-fold when impaired beyond the legal limit, compared with a sober individual. Comparatively, almost half of burn injuries are a result of alcohol (typically started by cigarettes).
Recreational Accidents and Alcohol
In the US, drownings are the third leading cause of accidental death, and an estimated 68% of those deaths involved drinking. Many of these deaths involve the co-abuse of other drugs, commonly central nervous depressants (i.e. opioids like oxycodone or benzodiazepines like Xanax). Additionally, outdoor recreational activities (like boating) often include heavy drinking. Thus, as many as 35% of near-drownings involved alcohol.
Work-Related Injuries While Intoxicated
Alcohol-related injuries in the workplace do happen, though alcohol abuse has historically been most closely linked to the service industry. Jobs like garbage collectors, customer service representatives, miners, construction workers, and those in the food service industry see some of the highest rates of alcoholism. High levels of stress or physical demand and drinking cultures may contribute to rates of alcohol abuse in these sectors. Also, due to the physical nature of these jobs, the risk of injury is often greater when compared to alcohol abuse and office-type jobs. As much as 16% of workplace injuries involve alcohol; 15% of victims of job-related deaths have tested positive for blood alcohol.
Get Help Before You Get Hurt
Don’t wait until you suffer serious bodily injury to get help for an alcohol use disorder. Talk to a recovery specialist today for more information about alcohol treatment.
Medical Reviewer — Last Reveiwed: May 20, 2019
Centers for Disease Control. (2017). Impaired Driving: Get the Facts. Retrieved on September 11, 2018 at https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html
Encyclopedia.com. (2001). Accidents And Injuries From Alcohol. Retrieved on September 6, 2018 at https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/accidents-and-injuries-alcohol
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (2015). Alcohol, Drugs and Crime. Retrieved on July 10, 2018 at https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol-drugs-and-crime
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2018). Drunk Driving. Retrieved on August 23, 2018 at https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drunk-driving
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2018). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. Retrieved on September 6, 2018 at https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2018). NIH study shows steep increase in rate of alcohol-related ER visits. Retrieved on September 6, 2018 at https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-study-shows-steep-increase-rate-alcohol-related-er-visits
University of Illinois at Chicago. (2015). Public Health Surveillance and Alcohol-Related Injuries. Retrieved on September 6, 2018 at https://healthinformatics.uic.edu/resources/infographics/public-health-surveillance-and-alcohol-related-injuries/
US National Library of Medicine. (2015). Alcohol Intake and Risk of Injury. Retrieved on September 6, 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4161955/
World Health Organization. (2007). Alcohol and Injury in Emergency Departments. Retrieved on September 6, 2018 at http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/alcohol_injury_summary.pdf
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