Introduction: Alcohol consumption is a significant risk factor for injuries. Further, level I trauma centres are mandated to screen and provide a brief intervention for identified problem drinkers. However, a valid population-based estimate of the magnitude of the problem is unknown. Therefore, the goal of this study is to evaluate the extent to which the present literature provides a valid estimate of the prevalence of alcohol-related visits to U.S. trauma centres.
Methods: A Medline search for all articles from 1966 to 2007 that might provide prevalence estimates of alcohol-related visits to U.S. trauma centres yielded 836 articles in English language journals. This review included only papers whose main or secondary goal was to estimate the prevalence of positive blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or acute intoxication. Both a crude aggregate estimate and sample size adjusted estimate were calculated from the included papers and the coverage and comparability of methods were evaluated.
Results: Of the 15 studies that met inclusion criteria, incidence estimates of alcohol-related visits ranged from 26.2% to 62.5% and yielded an aggregate, weighted estimate of 32.5%. Target population, capture rate, and threshold for a positive screening result varied considerably across studies. No study provided a comprehensive estimate, i.e., of all trauma patients hospitalised, treated and released, or who died.
Conclusions: Although the incidence of alcohol-related visits to U.S. trauma centres appears very high perhaps higher than any other medical setting, the validity of our aggregate estimate is threatened by crucial methodological considerations. The lack of a methodologically valid prevalence estimate hinders efforts to devise appropriate policies for trauma centres and across medical settings.