Averting tragedy

Trish Phan
People don’t know what an actual serving size of alcohol amounts to, says Christy Carroll, RN, UC Irvine Health trauma injury prevention coordinator. "Because of that they don't realize they're drinking as much as they do."

Trauma Prevention Center educates public about perils of drinking

The next time you trip over a doorjamb 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 helps patients rate their use of alcohol. It also can help them learn whether drinking is beginning to affect their health.  

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

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 Center for Trauma & Injury Prevention Research at UC Irvine School of Medicine.   

“We have the busiest trauma center in Orange County. Much of what we see is alcohol-related. The UC Irvine Health Medical Trauma Services Program directed by Dr. Michael Lekawa has made a commitment to providing these important resources to every trauma patient.”

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

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

The test and intervention given to UC Irvine Medical Center patients offers a way to alleviate some of the preventable heartbreak that presents itself at the emergency room’s front door on a daily basis.

It helps people realize their drinking may be hurting their bodies and how it affects others around them. The test, called the Computerized Alcohol Screening and Intervention (CASI), "is a great injury prevention program that helps us educate people about drinking and offers a brief intervention and resources to help them control it," Lotfipour says.

The UC Irvine-designed test is being given to patients at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, in addition to those at UC Irvine Medical Center, and is used at community health fairs, college campus activities and safe-driving events.

Lotfipour emphasizes that you don’t have to be an alcoholic for alcohol to put you at risk for injury or illness. Just one or two drinks can affect your judgment or driving skills.

“No amount of alcohol is safe when you’re driving,” he says.

Holidays can be especially dangerous, says Carroll.

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

“People don’t know what an actual serving size of alcohol amounts to. Because of that, they don’t realize that they drink as much as they do. Many are at-risk drinkers without knowing it.”

At-risk drinkers include:

  • Men who drink four drinks in one day, or 14 drinks per week
  • Women who have seven drinks a week or three drinks in one day
  • Seniors (65 or older) who have seven drinks a week or three in one day day

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