Alcohol-Attributable Injuries in Admissions to a Swiss Emergency Room—An Analysis of the Link Between Volume of Drinking, Drinking Patterns, and Preattendance Drinking


  • This research was supported by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation 3200-067949.

Reprint requests: Gerhard Gmel, PhD, Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Problems, Lausanne, Switzerland; Fax: 41-21-321-29-40; E-mail:


Background: An association between alcohol consumption and injury is clearly established from volume of drinking, heavy episodic drinking (HED), and consumption before injury. Little is known, however, about how their interaction raises risk of injury and what combination of factors carries the highest risk. This study explores which of 11 specified groups of drinkers (a) are at high risk and (b) contribute most to alcohol-attributable injuries.

Methods: In all, 8,736 patients, of whom 5,077 were injured, admitted to the surgical ward of the emergency department of Lausanne University Hospital between January 1, 2003, and June 30, 2004, were screened for alcohol use. Eleven groups were constructed on the basis of usual patterns of intake and preattendance drinking. Odds ratios (ORs) comparing injured and noninjured were derived, and alcohol-attributable fractions of injuries were calculated from ORs and prevalence of exposure groups.

Results: Risk of injury increased with volume of drinking, HED, and preattendance drinking. For both sexes, the highest risk was associated with low intake, HED, and 4 (women), 5 (men), or more drinks before injury. At the same level of preattendance drinking, high-volume drinkers were at lower risk than low-volume drinkers. In women, the group of low-risk non-HED drinkers taking fewer than 4 drinks suffered 47.5% of the alcohol-attributable injuries in contrast to only 20.4% for men. Low-volume male drinkers with HED had more alcohol-attributable injuries than that of low-volume female drinkers with HED (46.9% vs 23.2%).

Conclusions: Although all groups of drinkers are at increased risk of alcohol-related injury, those who usually drink little but on occasion heavily are at particular risk. The lower risk of chronic heavy drinkers may be due to higher tolerance of alcohol. Prevention should thus target heavy-drinking occasions. Low-volume drinking women without HED and with only little preattendance drinking experienced a high proportion of injuries; such women would be well advised to drink very little or to take other special precautions in risky circumstances.