The relationship between alcohol use and burn injuries is a negative one in multiple ways. Not only are about 50% of adults who sustain burn injuries intoxicated at the time of injury, suggesting that alcohol use may have contributed to the incident, but alcohol use among burn-injured patients is associated with more severe complications, delayed recovery, and increased morbidity and mortality.
“Return to work or normal life can be impaired or delayed for burn-injured patients who use alcohol,” says Elizabeth Kovacs, PhD, vice chair of research and professor of GI, trauma, and endocrine surgery in the University of Colorado Department of Surgery. “Every organ of the body is affected by alcohol because it enters your bloodstream. If you look at the data on alcohol use and injury recovery, it affects everything from the cardiovascular system to the lungs, liver, and pancreas, and even fracture repair.”
That’s primarily because alcohol in the body alters inflammatory responses, she says, making it harder for the immune system to do its job.
“The immune system kills a germ by eating it, like a Pac-Man, and alcohol impairs the ability of that cell to eat the germ,” Kovacs says. “If you get a bacterial infection and your body can’t destroy it, then you’re going to have more bacteria, and things will only get worse.”