The importance of being drink aware

While many people will be gearing themselves up for a well-deserved break over the holiday period, countless emergency medical services (EMS) personnel will be preparing themselves for the busiest time of the year. Although there are a number of explanations for the increase in callouts surrounding Christmas, one of the major contributing factors is alcohol consumption.

Injuries relating to alcohol come in a variety of forms and can be roughly categorised as follows: unintentional injuries, such as falls, drownings, cuts and burns; injuries as a result of violence, including intimate partner violence and child maltreatment; and road- traffic injuries. Another notable risk of alcohol consumption is alcohol poisoning, which in the worst cases can lead to death.

Alcohol is the biggest single cause of accidents in the home. Every year in the UK there are around 4 000 fatal domestic accidents, 2.6 million accidents that require treatment in A&E departments and many more accidents not accounted for in the hospital admissions statistics (IAS, 2013b).

In relation to violence, around 35% of victims report that offenders are under the influence of alcohol (Greenfield, 1998). Alcohol use is also associated with two out of three incidents of intimate partner violence (Greenfield, 1998).

The impact of alcohol in your system can have a seriously adverse effect on your ability to drive, due to the range of psycho-motor and cognitive effects that increase accident risk on reaction times, cognitive processing, coordination, vigilance, vision and hearing (IAS, 2013b). According to the Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) (2012), almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver every day. This equates to one death every 48 minutes. However, statistics show that during Christmas and New Year’s, two to three times more people die in alcohol-related crashes than during comparable periods the rest of the year, and 40% of traffic fatalities during these holidays involve a driver who is alcohol- impaired, compared to 28% for the rest of December (NHTSA, 2007). In the UK, despite an overall downward trend in the number of reported drink-drive accidents and casualties since the introduction of the 1988 Road Traffic Act, the proportion of drink-drive road accidents in relation to total road accidents has remained constant over the last decade (14%–18%) (Institute of Alcohol Studies, 2013b).

The fewer ambulances that are called out to treat patients who have over imbibed, the more that can be sent to patients suffering from unpreventable life-threatening emergencies such as cardiac arrests. The importance of the public being drink aware this Christmas can therefore not be overemphasised.


Dept of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2012) Traffic Safety Facts 2010: Alcohol-Impaired Driving. NHTSA, Washington DC

Greenfield LA (1998) Alcohol and Crime: An Analysis of National Data on the Prevalence of Alcohol Involvement in Crime Report prepared for the Assistant Attorney General’s National Symposium on Alcohol Abuse and Crime. US Department of Justice, Washington DC

Institute of Alcohol Studies (2013a) Alcohol, accidents and injuries. njsw5nz (accessed 19 December 2013)

Institute of Alcohol Studies (2013b) Drink-driving factsheet. (accessed 19 December 2013)

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2007) Traffic Safety Facts, December 2007. NHTSA, Washington DC

Taken from International Paramedic Practice, published 20 December 2013.

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