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Heavy Drinking Ups Odds of Death in House Fire

Roughly 60% of fire victims were intoxicated, Australian study finds

THURSDAY, Sept. 15, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Drinking heavily may increase a person's risk of dying in a house fire, researchers warn.

When cigarettes are involved the risk of death is even higher, the Australian investigators added. They noted, however, some victims died needlessly and could have survived had they reacted in time.

In conducting the study, the team analyzed coroners' records for 95 fire victims in Australia. The researchers found that 58 percent of the victims tested positive on blood-alcohol tests -- often with extremely high alcohol levels.

Most of the victims in the study were alone at the time of the fire. Nearly half of the drunk victims were sleeping.

The study, published in the September issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, also revealed that the drunk victims were less likely than those who were sober to have had obstacles preventing their escape from the fire, such as barred windows or a blocked exit.

As a result, at least some of them might have survived had they been roused in time, the report indicated. Smoke detectors or having other people in the house who were sober could also have prevented some of the deaths, the authors pointed out in a journal news release.

Smoking was the most common culprit behind the deaths of the drunk victims. The study found that victims who had been drinking were roughly 4.5 times more likely to have died in fires that involved "smoking materials," like cigarette butts.

"A key message is that smoking and drinking together constitute a high-risk activity, even in your own home," the study's lead researcher, Dorothy Bruck of Victoria University in Melbourne, said in the news release.

Aside from not combining smoking while drinking, the researchers advised that people can help reduce their fire risks in a number of ways, including:

  • If you're drinking, always have someone else in the house who stays sober.
  • Install smoke detectors in bedrooms or living areas, in addition to hallways.
  • If you smoke, buy fire-safe cigarettes that self-extinguish.

The study authors noted that this high percentage of drunk house-fire victims is consistent with what's been revealed in other studies from the United States, Europe and Canada.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about the health risks of drinking alcohol.

SOURCE: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, news release, Sept. 15, 2011
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