The dangers of alcohol extend to those who don’t even drink. When researchers study the problems with alcohol addiction and impairment, the focus is almost always on the potential risks to health and wellbeing for the drinker.
But researchers from the Institute for Therapy Research in Bayern, Germany wanted to investigate the lesser-known impacts of second-hand drinking and how drinking harms people other than the drinker. This includes not only road traffic accidents but also fetal development problems caused by drinking while pregnant and interpersonal violence where alcohol is involved.
The study was published in the journal BMJ Medicine, and the results show that the impacts of alcohol on people other than the drinker should be considered a major public health concern and factored into policies and campaigns centered around alcohol awareness.
The researchers examined the harm alcohol poses to third parties by reviewing survey data on the prevalence of alcohol use during pregnancy and cause of death statistics from 2014 in Germany.
The team made a note of incidences of fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) during 2014, and estimated how many third-party individuals were injured or killed due to traffic accidents or interpersonal violence caused by alcohol.
“This study estimates some of the most severe harms that alcohol use may cause to other people than the drinker, namely fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), road traffic fatalities caused by drunk drivers, and deaths resulting from alcohol-attributable interpersonal violence,” said Dr. Ludwig Kraus, the corresponding author of the study.
All in the all, the researchers found that 1,214 third-party road traffic deaths and 55 interpersonal violence deaths were linked to alcohol. Drinking while pregnant was also responsible for 2,930 incidences of fetal alcohol syndrome and 12,650 cases of FASD.
“Although the estimates across the three harm domains are not directly comparable, the results suggest that alcohol use in pregnancy followed by road traffic fatalities account for significantly more harm to others than alcohol-related violence,” said Kraus.
There are limitations to the study as it can be difficult to find accurate data on alcohol use during pregnancy, especially if data is self-reported. But the results of the study show that drinking poses a serious risk to third-party individuals and it’s a problem that deserves more public attention.
“Although measures such as pricing policies or limiting the marketing of alcoholic beverages are unpopular, targeted measures addressing particular populations at risk, such as women of childbearing age or road users, may help to reduce harms to others as well as harms to the drinker,” said Kraus.