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Risk of serious assault spikes with alcohol sales: study

Risk of serious assault spikes with alcohol sales: study

Toronto, May 12, 2008

The risk of being hospitalized for serious assault, including those stemming from an unarmed brawl, increases by more than 40 per cent at peak sales of alcohol, according to new research by scientists at St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

The finding is part of a study led by Hospital physician Dr. Joel Ray that examined 3,212 Ontario-wide hospitalized assault victims 13 years and older over a 2.5-year period. By comparing the volume of alcohol sold at the store closest to the victim's home on the day before the assault with the volume of alcohol sold at the same store seven days earlier, researchers found a 13 per cent higher risk of being hospitalized for assault for each additional 1000 litres of alcohol sold per LCBO outlet per day. At peak sale times, this risk was 41 per cent higher or equal to nearly two more hospitalized assaults per day across Ontario.

"While the role of alcohol in unintentional injuries such as car accidents has long been known, its role in intentional injuries, particularly assaults, has not been clearly defined," Ray said. "This study has now shown that alcohol-related assault can result in serious medical injuries because alcohol may impair the perpetrator and/or the victim, placing them in the wrong state of mind in the wrong setting."

According to the study, almost 83 per cent of those admitted to hospital for assault were male and 85 per cent lived in urban areas. The findings suggest most assaults resulted from an unarmed brawl or fight followed by the use of a sharp or blunt weapon.

The tendency to excuse persons who brawl while drinking alcohol should be no different than our intolerance of those who drive while impaired, the study's authors said. It is time to change our tone.

"While more research is needed to examine the relationship between alcohol consumption and assault, just like for drunk driving, we need to consider novel methods of preventing and reducing these serious incidents. Probably the best way is to teach people that alcohol can make you 'meaner,' so it should be avoided in situations that are likely to boil over onto dispute," said Ray, an adjunct scientist with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. "Another broader approach may be to limit the number of new alcohol sales outlets that are opened, or the number of stores within a given geographic range."

The study was published in today's online edition of PLoS Medicine (View press preview of article [opens PDF file]).

St. Michael's Hospital is a large and vibrant Catholic teaching and research hospital in the heart of Toronto. Fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, St. Michael's Hospital leads with innovation, and serves with compassion. Renowned for providing exceptional patient care, St. Michael's Hospital is a regional trauma centre and downtown Toronto's designated trauma centre for adults.

ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of health care issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting health care needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy.

For more information, contact:

Julie Saccone
Media Relations
St. Michael's Hospital
416-864-5047
SacconeJ@smh.toronto.on.ca