Change search
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link
Drowning deaths in Sweden with emphasis on the presence of alcohol and drugs: a retrospective study, 1992-2009
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation, Forensic Medicine.
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Nursing.
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Surgical and Perioperative Sciences, Surgery.
2013 (English)In: BMC Public Health, ISSN 1471-2458, Vol. 13, 216- p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background: Drowning deaths constitute a significant proportion of unnatural deaths globally. In Sweden and other high-income countries, drowning deaths have decreased. This study investigates the epidemiology and current trends of unintentional, intentional, and undetermined drowning deaths with emphasis on the presence of alcohol and other drugs.

Methods: During an 18-years period, 5,125 drowning deaths were autopsied in Sweden. Data on cases including toxicological analysis on alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs, and illicit drugs were obtained from the National Board of Forensic Medicine.

Results: During the study period, the annual incidence of drowning deaths in Sweden was 3.1/100,000 inhabitants and decreased on average by about 2% each year (p<0.001). The highest incidence was found among males and in middle/older age groups. The incidence increased 3% for each year of age. Children/adolescents (<= 18 years) constituted 5% of all drowning deaths. Of all drowned females in the study, 55% (847/1,547) committed suicide, which was a significantly higher proportion compared with males (21%, 763/3,578) (p<0.001). In total, 38% (1,656/4,377) of tested drowned persons had alcohol in their blood and the mean concentration was 1.8 g/l. In the unintentional drowning group, intentional drowning group, and the undetermined group, the proportion of alcohol positive was 44%, 24%, and 45%, respectively. One or several psychoactive drugs were present in the blood in 40% (1,688/4,181) of all tested persons and in 69% (965/1,394) of tested persons who died from suicidal drowning. The most common drug was benzodiazepines (21%, 891/4,181). Illicit drugs were detected in 10% (82/854) of tested persons.

Conclusion: Presence of alcohol and drugs were frequent and may have contributed to the drowning deaths. The incidence of drowning deaths significantly decreased during the study period. Males and the middle/older age groups had a higher incidence compared to females and children. Suicidal drowning was common especially among women. Alcohol and drugs are significant contributors in drowning deaths in Sweden and should be considered as part of a comprehensive prevention program.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
BioMed Central, 2013. Vol. 13, 216- p.
Keyword [en]
Alcohol, Drowning, Illicit drugs, Pharmaceutical drugs, Suicide
National Category
Substance Abuse Forensic Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-70348DOI: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-216ISI: 000317115800002PubMedID: 23497055OAI: diva2:633788
Available from: 2013-06-27 Created: 2013-05-14 Last updated: 2014-09-08Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Traffic and drowning incidents with emphasis on the presence of alcohol and drugs
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Traffic and drowning incidents with emphasis on the presence of alcohol and drugs
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Worldwide, fatal traffic injuries and drowning deaths are important problems. The aim of this thesis was to investigate the cirumstances of fatal and non-fatal traffic injuries and drowning deaths in Sweden including analysis of the presence of alcohol and drugs, which are considered to be major risk factors for these events. Data where obtained from the database of National Board of Forensic Medicine.

In the first study, we investigated 420 passenger deaths from 372 crashes during 1993-1996. There were 594 drivers involved. In total, 21% of the drivers at fault were alcohol positive compared to 2% of drivers not at fault (p<0.001) (Paper I). During 2004-2007, crashes involving 56 fatally and 144 non-fatally injured drivers were investigated in a prospective study from Northern Sweden (Paper II). The drivers were alcohol positive in 38% and 21%, respectively. Psychoactive drugs were found in 7% and 13%, respectively. Benzodiazepines, opiates and antidepressants were the most frequent drugs found in drivers. Illict drugs were found 9% and 4% respectively, with tetrahydrocannabinol being the most frequent of these drugs (Paper II).

We investigated 5,125 drowning deaths in Sweden during 1992-2009 (Paper III). The incidence decreased on average by about 2% each year (p<0.001). Unintentional drowning was most common (50%). Alcohol was found in 44% of unintentional, 24% of intentional, and 45% of undetermined drowning deaths. Psychoactive substances were detected in 40% and benzodiazepines were the most common substance. Illicit drugs were detected in 10%. Of all drowning deaths, a significantly higher proportion females commited suicide compared with males (55% vs. 21%, p<0.001). Suicidal drowning deaths (n=129) in Northern Sweden were studied further in detail (Paper IV). of these, 53% had been hospitalized due to a psychiatric diagnosis within five years prior to the suicide. Affective and psychotic disorders were the most common psychiatric diagnoses. Almost one third had performed a previous suicide attempt. One fourth had committed suicide after less than one week of discharge from hospital. Alochol was found in 16% and psychoactive drugs in 62% of these cases, respectively. 

In conclusion, alcohol and psychoactive drugs are commonly detected among injured drivers and drowning victims, and probably play a role in these events. Most of the individuals that tested positive for alcohol and high blood concentrations, indicating alochol dependence or abuse. This association warrants futher attention when planning future prevention. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2014. 62 p.
Umeå University medical dissertations, ISSN 0346-6612 ; 1662
Traffic incidents, drivers, passenger, drowning, alochol, pharmaceuptical, illicit drugs, suicidal drowning, mental disorder
National Category
Forensic Science
Research subject
Forensic Medicine
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-91526 (URN)978-91-7601-095-2 (ISBN)
Public defence
2014-09-19, Hörsal D, Unod T9, Norrlands Universitetssjukhus, Umeå, 13:00 (Swedish)
Available from: 2014-08-29 Created: 2014-08-11 Last updated: 2014-09-26Bibliographically approved

Open Access in DiVA

fulltext(438 kB)172 downloads
File information
File name FULLTEXT01.pdfFile size 438 kBChecksum SHA-512
Type fulltextMimetype application/pdf

Other links

Publisher's full textPubMed

Search in DiVA

By author/editor
Ahlm, KristinSaveman, Britt-IngerBjörnstig, Ulf
By organisation
Forensic MedicineDepartment of NursingSurgery
In the same journal
BMC Public Health
Substance AbuseForensic Science

Search outside of DiVA

GoogleGoogle Scholar
Total: 172 downloads
The number of downloads is the sum of all downloads of full texts. It may include eg previous versions that are now no longer available

Altmetric score

Total: 201 hits
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link