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Trauma Doctors Bring Attention to Crash Victims' Drinking

WebMD Health News

Jan. 31, 2000 (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) -- Consider the following: (1) The National Safety Council has estimated that approximately three of every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related traffic crash at some time in their lives. (2) A major health risk for young adults is binge drinking. (3) Binge drinkers, even after being hurt in an alcohol-related crash, often deny they have a problem. Now, however, a new intervention program by trauma centers has succeeded in helping a majority of a group of seriously injured binge drinkers acknowledge the role that alcohol played in their accidents, according to the January issue of the American Journal of Critical Care.

"Hospitalization after a serious injury related to the use of alcohol can be thought of as a 'teachable moment' that may lead to changes in drinking behaviors," Marilyn S. Sommers, RN, PhD, tells WebMD.

"What we believe health care practitioners should do," explains Sommers, "is when they are treating these patients to say something like, 'Look, I am fixing your current injury, but I am worried about the possibility of you having future injuries. We know that people who have one alcohol-related injury are more likely to have others. I am worried about you. I want you to think about changing your drinking behaviors. You do realize that your current injury (fractured pelvis, broken arm, head injury or whatever) has to do with your drinking, right?'"

Such a realization is crucial, according to the study, because unintentional injury is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for persons under 34 years of age and the fifth leading cause of death for persons of all ages. "Motor vehicle crashes (MVC) are responsible for most of those deaths, and alcohol is a persistent factor in these crashes," says Sommers.

Influencing even a small percentage of binge drinkers to stop their destructive behavior "could result in the avoidance of thousands of injuries and deaths and the savings of millions of dollars of health care costs," Carl Soderstrom, MD, tells WebMD. Soderstrom is a professor of surgery at the Shock Trauma Center, Univerisity of Maryland in Baltimore, and has just received a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse to begin a large-scale study of the problem.

The study by Sommers and her colleagues at the colleges of nursing and medicine at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, involved interviews with 132 binge drinkers, ages 18 to 45, who were hospitalized as a result of alcohol-related car crashes. The hospitalized patients were asked, "To what extent do you believe your alcohol consumption was responsible for this injury?" Responses were measured on a seven-point scale, ranging from one (not at all), to seven (totally). Close to 38% of those questioned answered "not at all," about 26% answered "somewhat," and approximately 38% responded "mostly" or "totally."

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