An estimated 20–25% of patients treated in emergency departments or as inpatients for trauma have been drinking and most of them have BACs of 0.10 gm/dL (22 mmol/L) or higher. Many are problem drinkers or alcoholics, smokers, and also abuse other drugs. Both acute ingestion and chronic abuse of alcohol increase the frequency and severity of injury, and may complicate patient management by mimicking head trauma, masking intra-abdominal injury, causing circulatory collapse, reducing immune response, altering hepatic metabolism, or causing delirium tremens.
Proper management of a trauma patient with alcohol includes BAC determination, careful history taking for alcoholism with referral for further evaluation or treatment when indicated, and determination whether other drugs are also being misused. Failure to do these may put a physician at legal risk both for improper care of the patient and for exposing others to injury if the patient crashes after being discharged from the emergency department while still impaired by alcohol.
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