Do Newspapers Mislead About Alcohol-Related Deaths?

There is growing concern by researchers that alcohol related deaths are not being accurately reported. This lack of reporting may affect the public’s health by creating a lack of awareness of a growing problem.

A study by the School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, which was recently published in the journal Alcohol & Alcoholism, looked at the alcohol-related deaths reported in newspapers over a two-year period. The National Drug-Related Deaths Index (NDRDI), which is a database that records all deaths related to drugs and/or alcohol poisoning, was also used.

Deaths were from incidents where alcohol was identified as a causal contributor to death, including choking, drowning, falls, traffic accidents, fires and alcohol poisoning. Deaths due to suicide and chronic alcohol-conditions were excluded from study results.

Researchers found that 100 newspaper reports on 43 individual deaths did not mention one time that anyone was drunk at the time of death or that alcohol was a contributing factor in the death.

Two thirds of the articles (67%) omitted any mention or suggestion of alcohol use whatsoever. In one third of articles where the possibility of alcohol consumption was suggested, in 75% of these cases it was simply to indicate that the person had been ‘socializing’ prior to their death.

The question is, would reporting that alcohol was related to the cause of death help improve the public health? Would people be more cautious when drinking if they realized how often alcohol is causal in accidental deaths?

At least 25% of these early deaths involving alcohol are accidental in nature. Irish research indicates that alcohol is involved in 35–60% of unintended deaths.

It is important to report accurately circumstances surrounding alcohol related activities before death to allow the public to become better informed of the realities of drinking. Hopefully people will discover the truth about abusing alcohol, enabling better decision making and encouraging changed drinking behavior.

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