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Another New Year's Hazard: Drunk Walking

MONDAY, Dec. 31 (HealthDay News) -- With New Year's Eve approaching and champagne set to flow, cautionary messages about the perils of drunk driving abound. But this year one trauma expert addressed a far less publicized concern: drunk walking.

According to Dr. Thomas Esposito, of Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill., the pitfalls related to inebriated mobility -- with or without wheels -- stem from the fact that "alcohol impairs your physical ability, period."

"Every movement ranging from driving a car to simply walking to the bathroom is compromised," he said in a Loyola news release. "Alcohol impairs your judgment, reflexes and coordination. Alcohol is nothing more than a socially acceptable, over-the-counter stimulant/depressant and, especially during the holidays, alcohol is frequently abused."

More than a quarter century spent as a trauma physician -- currently as chief of the division of trauma, surgical critical care and burns -- has given Esposito a firsthand view of exactly where walking drunk can lead.

"From July 2009 to June 2010, 105 people were treated at Loyola after being struck by cars," he said. "Fifty-five had their blood alcohol content checked. Of those, 16 individuals, or 29 percent, were found to have had some level of alcohol in their system. Thirteen individuals, or 24 percent, had blood-alcohol concentrations at or above 0.08 percent, the accepted level for intoxication."

The somewhat under-the-radar issue has been tracked by numerous organizations, including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which noted that as recently as 2008, nearly one in four pedestrian deaths among people aged 16 and older involved patients who had blood-alcohol concentrations above 0.08 percent.

When looking at nighttime and early-morning deaths, that figure increased to 53 percent.

"If they had been driving and were stopped by police," Esposito said, "they would have been arrested for driving under the influence."

"It's not just walking outside," he added. "We often see people who have been drinking that have fallen down the stairs or tripped at home and injured themselves. Others have unwisely chosen to 'get into it' with guns, knives, bottles and fists."

To lower your risk, Esposito advises that when drinking is in the cards, avoid wearing dark clothes and walk in groups so as to be more visible to cars when crossing streets. Party hosts, he added, should take responsibility for ensuring that drunk guests not be left on their own to walk home, and be offered the opportunity to sleep it off if necessary.

"If their mode of transportation is a car, you do things to prevent them from driving, such as calling them a cab or finding them an unimpaired chauffeur," he said. "If that mode of transportation is their legs, then you either drive them -- assuming you're not impaired -- or make them stay at home with you."

More information

For more on drinking and New Year's, visit AAA.

--Alan Mozes

SOURCE: Loyola University Health System, news release, Dec. 26, 2012

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