HaPI systematic review examining the role of alcohol in unintentional drowning published in Drug and Alcohol Review and featured in Scimex

Scimex: Further work required to reduce alcohol-related drowning


Hamilton, K., Keech, J.J., Peden, A.E. & Hagger, M.S. (in press). Alcohol use, aquatic injury, and unintentional drowning: A systematic literature review. Drug and Alcohol Review. doi: 10.1111/dar.12817 (download)


An urgent need for high quality research aimed at reducing alcohol-related drowning is the call, following a new Griffith University systematic literature review.

The call comes from Dr Kyra Hamilton from Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland, who says that despite continued safety campaigns to alleviate this global public health issue, the statistics still remain high.

Through a research collaboration between Griffith University and Royal Life Saving Society – Australia, 73 studies were looked at as part of the paper “Alcohol use, aquatic injury, and unintentional drowning: A systematic literature review” published in Drug and Alcohol Review – 57 on prevalence and/or risk factors, 14 on understanding alcohol use, and two on prevention strategies.

On average, 49 per cent and 35 per cent of fatal and non-fatal drownings, respectively, involved alcohol, with large variations among studies observed.

“Globally, prevalence rates for alcohol involvement in fatal and non-fatal drowning varied greatly,” says Dr Hamilton.

In Australia, Royal Life Saving’s National Fatal Drowning Database shows alcohol was involved in 23 per cent of the 4,256 unintentional fatal drownings in Australia since 2002. Of these, 66 per cent had a blood alcohol content of 0.05 or higher. Alcohol involvement was unknown in a further 25 per cent of cases, indicating the role of alcohol in fatal drowning in Australia is likely larger than currently known. Alcohol was more prevalent among males and drowning incidents at inland waterways such as rivers, lakes and dams.

In their review of the global research in this area, results showed that “males, boating, not wearing lifejackets, and swimming alone (at night, and at locations without lifeguards) were risk factors for alcohol-related drowning. No specific age groups were consistently identified as being at risk. However, study quality was consistently low, and risk of bias was consistently high across studies.”

“Only two studies evaluated prevention strategies.”

“We already know that there is a strong association between alcohol consumption and drowning risk; however, our comprehensive review did not identify any studies evaluating campaigns or interventions targeting alcohol use around water in the past two decades,” says Dr Hamilton.

“This study highlights the urgent need for high quality intervention research aimed at reducing alcohol-related drowning and the need for higher quality studies and behavioural research to better understand this risky behaviour.”

Royal Life Saving has had a strong focus on the prevention of alcohol-related drowning and aquatic injury for a number of years. It’s most recent campaign, “Don’t Let Your Mates Drink and Drown”, developed with the support of the Australian Government, aims to encourage men to look out for their mates and stand up to the sorts of risk taking behaviour that can lead to accidents and drowning. For participation in the evaluation of this research see hapiresearchlab.com/participate

Amy Peden, National Manager, Research and Policy, Royal Life Saving Society Australia, says: “A culture of risk-taking behaviour among men can be dangerous around the water, and when combined with alcohol and/or drugs, it can be fatal”.

“Future research should focus on the implementation and evaluation of prevention strategies to reduce further loss of life due to alcohol-related drowning,” Dr Hamilton says.