NSHA study finds links between alcohol and repeat trauma patients

HALIFAX – More than 40 per cent of people who have one alcohol-related trauma repeat their behaviour, according to research coming out of the Nova Scotia Trauma Program.

Researchers looked at 11 studies from Australia, Canada, the United States, Italy, Sweden and Finland that examined data related to trauma recidivism and the use of alcohol. Out of 25,107 trauma patients, there were 3,350 patients who were repeatedly admitted to hospital for trauma.

Dr. Rob Green, the director of the Trauma Program, said the 41 per cent of those patients used alcohol.

“Patients who have one alcohol-related trauma, they were repeat offenders and had a second trauma,” he said.

Green said the amount of alcohol consumed by patients ranged from having one drink to alcohol abuse. He calls the number, which is higher than he expected, concerning.

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“I’m certainly not condoning the appropriate enjoyment of alcohol but I think alcohol can be abused. It’s a real warning sign when there’s alcohol that is associated with a trauma that requires presentation to an emergency centre.”

The types of trauma examined in the study range from car-pedestrian collisions to assaults to weapon-related trauma. However, Green said 75 per cent of the incidents were motor-vehicle collisions.

“There are still a significant amount of intoxicated drivers on our roads. We see it almost on a daily basis in our emergency department,” he said.

Green said more emphasis needs to be placed on the sub-group of patients who will have repeated alcohol-related trauma, adding they can place a strain on the healthcare system.

“What it really means is that there’s a gap between how we deal with trauma on a public health basis. If we can predict the populations that are going to have trauma and can intervene somehow, that is one avenue we should look at,” he said.

Public health officer not surprised by data

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s medical officer of health, said the percentage of repeat trauma patients using alcohol isn’t unexpected.

“It reinforces that known link,” he said. “To me, this is a reminder yet again of the impacts that alcohol use and especially alcohol misuse creates.”

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Strang said the burden on the healthcare system as a result of these types of patients can be wide-reaching.

“Some of these people with trauma need to be admitted to surgery. Some with severe injuries can be in hospital for a significant period of time and they need rehab. Then it’s the impact on our lives once they’re out of hospital in terms of employment. It’s substantial. The impacts of alcohol are big and broad.”

Strang said the numbers surrounding impaired drivers are also concerning. He said changes to that type of behaviour will have to come on a bigger scale.

“People are well aware of the impacts of impaired driving. It comes back to our culture of overdrinking. That gets into issues around how alcohol is marketed, the accessibility of alcohol, the pricing of alcohol, those bigger policy issues.”

Green said he plans to reach out to Halifax Regional Police and the Department of Health and Wellness to see what, if any, policies can be put in place to curb this repeat behaviour.

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