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Tuesday, 16 January, 2001, 00:04 GMT
Drink injury link confirmed
Drugs and drink can be a risky combination
Drugs and drink can be a risky combination
People addicted to drink and drugs are the most likely to sustain injuries, research has confirmed.

US researchers found those who abused alcohol as well as other drugs are four times more likely to be hospitalised after injury than the general population.

Drug abusers are three times as likely and alcohol abusers twice as likely to be hospitalised.

The link between alcohol and drug use is well known. But this study looked at the injury risk of people who were clinically diagnosed as substance abusers.

Injury risk rates
Alcohol and drug abusers - 58%
Drug-only abusers - 49%
Alcohol-only abusers - 46%
Those who abuse neither drugs or alcohol - 38%

The researchers examined the insurance records of 1.5 million workers and looked at alcohol or drug related injury claims over a three year period.

They looked at all non-work injuries except alcohol and drug poisonings, including falls, car crash injuries, assaults, and suicide attempts.

Women are normally less likely to be injured than men.

But among substance abusers, women over 50 are more likely than men to get injured.

The researchers said the finding was "alarming" as treatment is usually concentrated on male alcohol and drug abusers.

Injury risk

Ted Miller, the lead scientist, based at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, said "We know that people often have alcohol on board when they get injured.

"We need to sort out how many injuries result from the effects of alcohol versus the lifestyle of those who abuse alcohol.

"Very little is known about the injury risk associated with drug abuse, or whether alcohol and drug abusers have higher injury risks than those who abuse only drugs.

"If substance abusers have excess injury risks, physicians need to know so they can reduce this health threat."

Linda Degutis, who also worked on the study, said: "This study provides important evidence regarding the extent of substance abuse disorders and injuries in a population of people who are employed and receive insurance coverage through their employers."

She called for better treatment for substance abusers, which she said was proved to cut absenteeism, sick days and disciplinary actions by 50%.

'Brain disease

"Addiction is a brain disease. Too often, addiction is treated as a moral issue, or a 'defect' in someone's personality or behaviour or judgement.

"It's a chronic disease, just like heart disease, diabetes and other diseases."

A spokeswoman for Alcohol Concern said: "Consuming alcohol is a major contributing factor to injuries.

"Research in the UK suggests one in six people attending A&E departments for treatment have alcohol-related injuries or problems, rising to eight out of 10 at peak times."

Alcohol Concern is calling for measures including initiatives to reduce alcohol-related violence and disorder in public places to cut the number of incidents.

Dr Guy Ratcliffe, executive director of the Medical Council on Alcoholism, said the risk of injury associated with alcohol, with or without drugs, was well known.

He added: "This study indicates a further increase in risk in people who mix alcohol and drugs. This should not be surprising.

"It is true that substance abusers are stigmatised by their addiction. Everybody has a duty to protect society: it is too easy to ignore this problem."

The research is published in Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research.

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