Alcohol as a risk factor for drownings: a review of the literature (1950-1985)

Accid Anal Prev. 1988 Feb;20(1):19-25. doi: 10.1016/0001-4575(88)90011-5.


We identified 36 English language studies (1950-1985) on alcohol and drownings. The majority of these were descriptive, reporting on the percent of drowning victims positive for alcohol upon autopsy. Most studies fell into one of three categories: Type A--complete ascertainment, duration of submergence specified; Type B--complete ascertainment, duration of submergence unspecified; Type C--partial ascertainment. Among Type A studies, percent of positives for alcohol ranged from 29% to 47%. Among Type B studies, percents ranged from 15% to 69%. Among Type C studies, percents ranged from 18% to 86%. We conclude that (1) between 25% and 50% of adult drowning victims have been exposed to alcohol and that (2) without data on the frequency of alcohol consumption among non-victims engaged in aquatic activities, the causal role of alcohol in drownings is uncertain. Suggestions for further research are offered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / complications*
  • Drowning / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors