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Is alcohol putting you at risk?

April 28, 2016 | Kristina Lindgren
Women consuming alcoholic beverages

April is national Alcohol Awareness Month, but at UCI Medical Center, Orange County’s busiest trauma center, every day is an opportunity to educate people about the risks of problem drinking.

UCI Health emergency and trauma doctors know the statistics well: one-third of patients who come to the ER with broken bones, sprains, head knocks, burns or other injuries have at least some alcohol in their system.

Alcohol impairment alone accounts for nearly a third of all U.S. traffic-related deaths, an average of one such fatality every 53 minutes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

That’s why the medical center offers trauma patients a quiz called CASI, or Computerized Alcohol Screening and Intervention. The test helps patients rate their alcohol consumption and learn whether drinking is beginning to affect their well-being.

“I don’t think most people understand alcohol’s full effects,” said Dr. Shahram Lotfipour, a professor of emergency medicine and public health who helped launch the CASI program at UCI Health in 2007.

“One drink is enough to impair your cognitive and motor skills. No amount of alcohol is safe when you’re driving.”

The goal: injury prevention

By offering the interactive quiz, UCI Health is trying to forestall potentially tragic visits to the ER.

Studies show that when patients are screened and counseled in trauma centers, there is a 50% reduction in return visits.

“We’re trying to prevent the next accident, the next injury,” said Christy Carroll, RN, a trauma injury prevention coordinator for UCI Health. “CASI is not just a screening, it’s also a brief intervention. By helping people understand their risk factors, it may help them to change their behavior.”

Patients whose results indicate they have an alcohol dependency problem are referred for counseling in addition to treatment for their injuries. For those who may be at risk for developing an alcohol dependency, follow-up counseling may be recommended.  

“The question we want you to ask yourself is: Is my alcohol use placing me at risk?” said Lotfipour, who directs the UCI School of Medicine’s Center for Trauma and Injury Prevention Research.

Are you at risk of problem drinking? Take the test to see how you rate ›

Connecting the dots

You don’t have to be an alcoholic for alcohol to increase your risk for injury or illness, Lotfipour said.

At-risk drinkers include:

  • Men who consume four drinks on any given day or 14 drinks a week
  • Women who have seven drinks a week or three drinks a day
  • Seniors (65 or older) who have seven drinks a week or three a day

How much alcohol equals one drink? It depends on the type of alcohol you're consuming.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one standard drink is equivalent to:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer (about 5% alcohol)
  • 8 to 9 ounces of malt liquor (about 7% alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of table wine (about 12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (80-proof, about 40% alcohol)

Updating CASI

More than 25,000 people have taken the CASI quiz since the program was launched in 2007. The test, offered in English and Spanish, has also been given at area hospitals, local health fairs, college campuses and safe-driving events.

"The more we can educate people about their risks, the better decisions they can make for themselves," Lotfipour said.

There are plans to roll out a recalibrated CASI that would also screen for drugs, including over-the-counter medications as well as legal and illegal prescription drugs.

This comes as the White House has called for a national effort to combat prescription opioid drug and heroin abuse. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States.

“We know there is a high likelihood that some people we see are using drugs and also drinking,” Lotfipour said. “They need to understand that the interaction of drugs and alcohol can increase their risk for injuries.”

For more information about responsible drinking, call Orange County Health Care Agency Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services at 714-480-6660.

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