Alcohol-related emergency department visits higher than previously thought


CHICAGO Emergency department visits for alcohol-related illnesses or injuries are approximately three times higher than previous estimates, according to an article in the March 8 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

According to the article, alcohol-related diseases and injuries pose a significant burden on hospital emergency departments (EDs). Because patients often fail to disclose their drinking habits to physicians, and ED physicians sometimes fail to identify signs of alcohol abuse, the number of alcohol-related ED visits may have been underestimated, according to information in the article.

Alden J. McDonald III, B.A., of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues examined alcohol-related ED visits at a national level using data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey for 1992 through 2000.

The researchers used 37 diagnoses that could be alcohol-related to estimate the total number of alcohol-related ED visits from 1992 through 2000.

The researchers found that there were an estimated 68.6 million ED visits attributable to alcohol from 1992 through 2000, averaging 7.6 million alcohol-related ED visits per year. Alcohol-related visits accounted for 7.9 percent of the total 866.5 million ED visits in that time period.

Patients aged 30 to 49 had twice the rate of ED visits with diagnoses that were considered to be completely attributable to alcohol than patients aged 15 through 29, or 50 and older. The visit rate for males with diagnoses 100 percent attributable to alcohol was three times higher than for females, and the visit rate for blacks with such diagnoses was approximately two times that for whites.

"Although U.S. public health officials recognize that EDs throughout the United States face an enormous burden from alcohol-related diseases and injuries, this study shows that the current literature significantly underestimates the magnitude of this burden," write the authors. "Our nine-year study also reveals a rising trend in the number and rate of alcohol-related ED visits and a widening gap between sexes and a shrinking gap between races among those seen in the ED with certain alcohol-related diagnoses."

The researchers conclude: " improving the frequency of ED screening may lead to more appropriate referrals and interventions during alcohol-related ED visits, with a reduction in subsequent illness and additional visits to the ED."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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