Alcohol-Related Illness: St. Patrick's Day Edition

St. Patrick’s Day marks the veneration of the island’s patron saint. In the dioceses of Ireland, it is both a solemnity and a holy day of obligation, and throughout Ireland it has become a day of parades, family feasts, and celebrations of Irish cultural heritage.

There are now more people of Irish descent living in the US than there are in Ireland, and surveys have indicated that 97% of Americans celebrate the holiday in some fashion. In the US, though, the holiday has morphed into one of the biggest drinking holidays of the year, along with New Year’s Eve and the Super Bowl. This can be attributed in part to the historic lifting of Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol for the day, which encouraged and propagated the holiday’s tradition of alcohol consumption.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 80% of all drunk driving deaths on St. Paddy’s day involved drivers who wereintoxicated at nearly twice the legal limit. The day after Saint Patrick’s day is one of the primary American business days when employers are on the lookout for absenteeism and hung-over employees, a side effect that costs the US economy an annual $160 billion in worker productivity.

According to the CDC, excessive alcohol consumption cost the US $224 billion, or about $1.90 per drink in 2006 from losses in productivity, health care, crime, and other expenses. Almost three-quarters of these costs were due to binge drinking. The study notes:

The cost of excessive drinking was quite far-reaching, reflecting the effect this dangerous behavior has on many aspects of the drinker’s life and on the lives of those around them. The costs largely resulted from losses in workplace productivity (72% of the total cost), health care expenses for problems caused by excessive drinking (11% of total), law enforcement and other criminal justice expenses related to excessive alcohol consumption (9% of total), and motor vehicle crash costs from impaired driving (6% of the total).

In recent years, Saint Patrick’s Day has become notorious for inspiring college binge drinking and violence. At the University of Massachusetts’ “Blarney Blowout” this year, there were more than 70 arrests, “violence and fights, injuries, severe alcohol intoxications, sexual assaults, excessive noise, property damage, and violence toward the police and community members.” The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that each year 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes, that 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking, and that 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

EpiCenter’s Alcohol-related Injury classification can be used to track emergency department registrations for alcohol-related injuries. The classification captures registrations with chief complaints including keywords such as “alcohol,” “ETOH,” “drink,” “intox,” and “jello shot,” and can be used to view ED data according to age group or gender.

Alcohol 3 yrs 100,000 population by month

Underage Alcohol by percentage

This tool can be useful in tracking underage drinking trends and observing time periods when extra public service announcements about drinking responsibly and avoiding drunk driving are called for.

The Community Guide to Preventative Services provides comprehensive tools and guidelines for preventing excessive alcohol consumption as a means of maintaining the health of local populations. With Super Bowl Sunday, St. Patrick’s day, and March Madness out of the way, three of the major binge drinking holidays of 2014 are behind us, but the day before Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve usually also call for extra diligence–as the data shows.