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How much is too much? The role of alcohol in injuries

December 17, 2013

The next time you trip over a step and find yourself sitting in the emergency room nursing a sprained ankle, don’t be surprised if someone hands you a tablet computer and asks if you’d like to take a little quiz.

The interactive test, called CASI (short for Computerized Alcohol Screening and Intervention), helps patients rate their use of alcohol; it can also help them learn whether drinking is beginning to affect their health.

But what does the test have to do with you and your sore ankle?

How much is one drink?
Do you drink too much?

The Computerized Alcohol Screening and Intervention (CASI) test helps patients rate their alcohol consumption and learn if drinking is beginning to affect their health.

Take the test to see how you rate ›

Accidents and alcohol are so tightly intertwined that emergency room personnel suspect drinking is involved any time someone suffers a trauma, says Dr. Shahram Lotfipour, professor of emergency medicine and public health and director of the Center for Trauma and Injury Prevention Research at UC Irvine School of Medicine.

“We have the busiest trauma center in Orange County. And much of what we see is alcohol-related.”

The list includes falls, drowning, burns, domestic violence injuries, assaults, on-the-job injuries, sports injuries and, of course, traffic accidents. In America, a person is injured in an alcohol-related crash almost every 90 seconds, according to US Highway Administration statistics.

“I know it’s a pessimistic view, but we come to expect trauma cases to be alcohol-related,” says Lotfipour, who has been involved in several long-term research studies of alcohol use.   

UCI Health is trying to break down the trauma-and-alcohol relationship by offering the CASI test and intervention to patients, in an attempt to prevent future heartbreaking emergency room visits.

Lotfipour emphasizes that you don’t have to be an alcoholic for alcohol to put you at risk for injury or illness. A single drink or two can affect your judgment or driving skills. “No amount of alcohol is safe when you’re driving,” he says.

The holiday season can be especially dangerous, says Christy Carroll, RN, UCI Health trauma injury prevention coordinator.

“People drink more during the festivities. Holidays can also be a stressful time, and some drink to cope, or they drink because they’re depressed or stressed about being with or without their families,” she says.

For more information about responsible drinking, call Orange County Health Care Agency Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services at 714-834-3840.