One Drink Could Land You in the ER

Alcohol drinkers had a nearly doubled risk of injury when they had just one drink

How many drinks does it take for you to raise your risk of physical injury? Just one, a new study suggests.

According to the UC Davis Health System, 1 in 3 18- to 24-year-olds who go to the emergency room for serious physical injury is drunk.

But what about when you have just one drink? Your risk of injury doubles, a new study found.

Lead study author Cheryl J. Cherpitel, PhD, a researcher with the Alcohol Research Group in Emeryville, CA, and colleagues studied data on 13,119 injured drinkers from 18 countries.

Those participants came to the ER with physical injuries. The patients filled out surveys that asked about how much they’d had to drink in the past six hours.

Based on the survey responses, Dr. Cherpitel and team found that those who had had one drink in the past six hours were about twice as likely as those who hadn’t had a drop to pay a visit to the ER. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a standard drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine and 1.5 ounces of liquor — not a 40-ounce can of corner-store suds.

You can probably guess what happened with people who had more than one drink — their risk of injury went way up. Those who had three drinks were nearly five times as likely as their sober peers to land in the ER. Ten drinks brought the risk of going to the ER up nearly 10-fold.

The researchers crunched the numbers for up to 30 drinks — but the injury risk didn’t get much higher after 10 drinks. The Washington Post guessed in a blog post that this might be because the likelihood of passing out (and therefore staying still and not hurting yourself) spikes once you have consumed that much alcohol.

This study was published Nov. 13 in Addiction.

The NIAAA funded the research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.