Injured patients with alcohol in their blood are less likely to die in hospital, claims a new study, adding the more the alcohol, the more likely they are to survive.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health analysed data for 190,612 patients treated at trauma centers between 1995 and 2009 who were tested for blood alcohol content, which ranged from zero to 0.5 per cent at the time they were admitted to the trauma unit.
Of that group, 6,733 died in the hospital.
The study examined the relationship of alcohol dosage to in-hospital mortality following traumatic injuries such as fractures, internal injuries and open wounds.
Alcohol benefited patients across the range of injuries, with burns as the only exception.
The benefit extended from the lowest blood alcohol concentration (below 0.1 per cent) through the highest levels (up to 0.5 per cent).
"This study is not encouraging people to drink," cautioned UIC injury epidemiologist Lee Friedman, author of the study.
"That's because alcohol intoxication - even minor inebriation - is associated with an increased risk of being injured," he said in a statement.
"However, after an injury, if you are intoxicated there seems to be a pretty substantial protective effect. The more alcohol you have in your system, the more the protective effect," said Friedman.
"At the higher levels of blood alcohol concentration, there was a reduction of almost 50 per cent 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," he said.
Friedman said it's important for clinicians to recognise intoxicated patients but also to understand how alcohol might affect the course of treatment.
Further research into the biomechanism of the protective phenomenon is needed, he said.
If the mechanism behind the protective effect were understood, we could then treat patients post-injury, either in the field or when they arrive at the hospital, with drugs that mimic alcohol, he added.