The image of a seemingly unscathed drunk driver after a severe accident, while their victims battle for life, often graces the news. This seemingly suggests that intoxication somehow shields individuals from the perils of vehicle crashes and other traumas. The prevalent notion posits that the more relaxed you are in your inebriated state, the less likely you are to sustain injuries. Many claim that a loose and floppy body structure enables one to endure accidents better. But is there any truth to this belief? Are drunk drivers indeed less prone to harm than their sober counterparts?
Various studies suggest conflicting data about alcohol’s impact on trauma survival rates. While some research highlights that alcohol can potentially double overall mortality, others seem to point to its protective effects. So, which is the truth? Does being floppy and drunk shield you from harm?
Let’s Consider the Case of a Typical “Floppsy the Drunk”
Neurotransmitters control all nerve cells in the central nervous system. Increased excitement leads to faster and stronger muscle reactions. Glutamate, a major excitatory neurotransmitter, facilitates rapid transmission of electrical messages in the brain and spinal cord. However, alcohol suppresses the ion flow of glutamate receptors, reducing this capacity. Even a blood alcohol level of 0.03 can hinder muscular control, making movement akin to that of Gumby during an earthquake.
Now, Envision Floppsy’s Encounter With a Car Crash
In such an event, the vehicle collides with something, the body strikes the car, and the internal organs collide within the body. According to the floppy-drunk hypothesis, a sober person tends to stiffen up, leading to reduced shock absorption and tighter tendons that are more prone to snapping, resembling a stretched rubber band. Conversely, an inebriated person supposedly follows the path of least resistance, turning their limbs into airbags and utilizing the body’s flexibility. This argument appears plausible at first glance.
However, research published in “The American Surgeon” in December 2013 suggests otherwise. Individuals with positive blood alcohol levels face a higher risk of severe head, facial, chest, and abdominal injuries, all of which are more likely to be fatal compared to limb fractures, tendon ruptures, or other stiffness-related injuries.
While these studies remain inconclusive, the notion that one is more likely to survive a car accident because they become as floppy as an inebriated grandparent before Viagra is generally regarded with suspicion, demanding further research.
Nonetheless, mounting evidence indicates that a substantial alcohol intake might enhance survival rates in traumatic situations, although it also significantly heightens the risk of catastrophic events, not only in vehicular accidents but in various other scenarios. The benefit of being flopsy only comes into play if one survives the alcohol-induced traumatic incident and seeks medical assistance.
The body’s reaction after sustaining an injury is deemed the most critical factor in determining one’s survival. Alcohol’s impact on biological responses is considered its primary beneficial aspect.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in January 2010, researchers found that individuals with high alcohol levels had a much higher survival rate after sustaining severe injuries, even though they were more susceptible to serious head trauma and septic illnesses.
According to Lee Friedman, a researcher and injury epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, alcohol reduced mortality rates for all types of severe injuries, except for burns. This is plausible given alcohol’s immunosuppressant effects and the heightened risk of severe infections in burn victims.
In another study from 2011 published in the European Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery, researchers found that alcohol-related trauma patients had nearly twice the mortality rate. Alcohol-impaired individuals with penetrating trauma were more likely to be admitted without vital signs, with hypotension, and with a lower Glasgow Coma Scale, contributing to increased mortality.
These conflicting findings can be attributed to the different types of trauma under examination, such as burns, gunshot wounds, or motor vehicle accidents. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, which explains why alcohol might aid in certain injuries but not others. Therefore, the question of whether drunk driving makes you safer in a car collision remains complex, requiring a comprehensive analysis, including deaths immediately after impact.
In the context of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), several studies and evaluations suggest that alcohol can offer protection. A TBI triggers the sympathetic nervous system to release norepinephrine and epinephrine, leading to increased levels of glutamate and aspirate. This cascade of chemicals can cause neuronal death. Blocking the receptor sites that enable these chemicals to wreak havoc can potentially help neurons survive and combat such injuries. One method involves inhibiting the NMDA receptor, which is a type of glutamate receptor. By blocking it, one can protect neurons from the harmful effects of a TBI.
In animal experiments conducted on rats in 2013, it was demonstrated that alcohol in the bloodstream reduced neuron cell death after a TBI. Thus, while drunkenness might increase the risk of sustaining a TBI, it can also improve the chances of survival