Administering alcohol may form part of the emergency care
A dose of alcohol may be a good treatment for people with head injuries, emergency doctors suggest.
Their basis for this is the discovery that people appear less likely to die following brain trauma if they have alcohol in their bloodstream.
It could be that alcohol dampens the body's inflammatory response to injury, the US team told Archives of Surgery.
But they stressed that alcohol can cause medical complications and is contributory to many accidents.
Experts cautioned people should not interpret the findings as an excuse to drink more alcohol.
The amount of alcohol consumed appears to be important - too little and there is no effect, too much and the beneficial effects are lost, studies on animals suggest.
Experts believe the right dose of alcohol, however, stops the cascade of swelling, inflammation and further destruction of brain cells, known as secondary brain injury.
The latest work, based on more than 38,000 moderate-to-severe head trauma patients, is the largest yet to look at the effects of alcohol on brain injury survival.
Like past research, Dr Ali Salim and his colleagues from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles, found head injury patients who had drunk were significantly less likely to die than those who had not had any alcohol.
They also tended to be younger and have less severe injuries.
On the flip side, patients with alcohol in their bloodstream were more likely to experience medical complications during their hospital stay.
Nonetheless, the researchers said: "The finding of reduced mortality in traumatic brain injury patients with pre-injury ethanol raises the intriguing possibility that administering ethanol to patients with brain injuries may improve outcome.
"Additional research is warranted to investigate reasons for this association and the potential therapeutic implications."
Dr John Heyworth, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, said: "This is a long way from thinking about giving alcohol to patients in A&E. But if, in the future, the science and evidence proves that it would be beneficial, we would consider it."
Professor Michael Oddy, of the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust, said: "Despite the intriguing findings the message must be the same - if you wish to avoid a brain injury, use alcohol with care and moderation."
Alcohol Concern chief executive Don Shenker said: "The fact is, being drunk increases your chances of getting into an accident in the first place. When judgement's impaired, we can put ourselves at risk."