German study reveals the ′dangers of alcohol′ — even if you′re not the one drinking | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 19.03.2019

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German study reveals the 'dangers of alcohol' — even if you're not the one drinking

From fatal car accidents, to physical assaults, to drinking while pregnant — consuming alcohol not only poses a risk to the person doing the drinking, but to those around them as well, a German study has found.

Medical research has confirmed time and time again the health risks associated with drinking, but what about the people who are harmed as the result of someone else consuming alcohol?

Researchers at the Munich-based Institute for Therapy Research (IFT) revealed the dangerous and sometimes deadly impact of alcohol consumption on third-party people, in a study published on Tuesday.

They found that an estimated 15,500 babies born in Germany in 2014 were born with disabilities due to alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The team also found that drunk drivers were involved in nearly half of fatal traffic accidents, while alcohol also plays a factor in deadly physical altercations.

"The harmful effects of alcohol on others need to be recognized as a public health problem in the same way as are the harmful effects on the drinker or the costs to society," the researchers wrote in the study.

Fetal alcohol syndrome 'clearly underestimated'

The study estimated that 12,650 babies were born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in 2014, while an estimated 2,930 were born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) that same year.

Babies who are born with FASD or its more severe version, FAS, are typically underweight, have physical defects and small head circumferences. Their motor abilities are limited and they often experience cognitive, behavioral and emotional deficits.

For Dr. Ludwig Kraus, the scientific director at IFT who led the team of researchers, the results of the study are particularly concerning for newborns, as the new figures of cases are much higher than prior estimates.

"The previous figures available for Germany are clearly underestimated," Kraus told DW.

Due to a lack of data in Germany on the number of newborns diagnosed with alcohol-related disorders each year, the IFT researchers used live birth data from 2014 as well as international survey studies on alcohol use during pregnancy to calculate the estimate.

Although the data is focused on 2014, Kraus explained that the results are a good estimate of the number of cases occurring in Germany each year.

Fatal accidents

Drivers who get behind the wheel drunk also pose a serious risk to pedestrians and the passengers of other cars.

The study found that alcohol was a factor in over 45 percent of road traffic fatalities in 2014.

Out of 2,694 traffic fatalities that took place in 2014, some 1,214 deaths occurred in accidents where alcohol was a factor.

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Spectrum: Living and dealing with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

The number of accidents involving alcohol is likely much higher, researchers said. According to Germany's Federal Statistics Office, alcohol involvement is not regularly tested in all traffic accidents, despite a legal basis to do so.

Alcohol also plays a significant role in the number of people who die in Germany every year as a result of physical assault or another violent altercation.

Out of the 368 people who died from injuries sustained during "interpersonal violence" in 2014, 55 of the deaths were in situations where alcohol played a role.

'Targeted measures' needed

For Kraus, the results of the study underscore the need for changes to prevent children and other people from being negatively impacted by someone else's alcohol consumption.

"Measures such as pricing policies or restrictions on the marketing of alcoholic beverages are unpopular," he said. "Therefore, targeted measures are needed for certain people like women of childbearing age or road users in order to reduce the harm to third parties."

For example, doctor's offices could start running alcohol screenings pregnant women, more police checks should be carried out on roadways and anti-violence training should be available for people who tend to get aggressive when they drink.

"The most important conclusion [of the study] is to make it clear that alcohol consumption also poses a danger to third-parties," Kraus emphasized.

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