Hospital Patients with Alcohol Dependence at Greater Risk of Death

The death rate of alcohol dependent patients in general hospitals is much greater than that of patients without alcohol dependency, according to new research published in the journal European Psychiatry. Furthermore, alcohol dependent patients die about 7.6 years earlier on average than hospital patients without a history of alcohol addiction.

For the long-term observational study, scientists analyzed patient data over a 12.5 year period from various general hospitals in Manchester, England. The findings show a need for earlier and more intensive psychotherapeutic support of persons with alcohol addictions.

“Mental problems as well as significant physical health impairments are associated with alcohol addiction,” says Dr. Dieter Schoepf from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the University of Bonn Hospital.

“Alcoholics who were treated in British general hospitals for health problems die an average of 7.6 years earlier than non-alcohol dependent patients; this is due to the interaction of several concomitant physical illnesses.”

The scientists analyzed comorbid physical illnesses of 23,371 hospital patients with alcohol dependence and compared them with those of a control group of 233,710 randomly selected patients without alcoholism.

“During the observation period, approximately one out of five hospital patients with alcoholism died in one of the hospitals, while only one out of twelve patients in the control group died,” says Dr. Reinhard Heun, a professor from the Royal Derby Hospital in England.

A total of 27 physical illnesses occur more often in patients with alcohol addiction: the liver, the pancreas, the airways, the gastrointestinal tract, and the nervous system. On the other hand, heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, and cataracts, for instance, occurred less frequently in patients with alcoholism than in the control group.

“Patients with addiction problems are often admitted to hospitals as emergency cases. At the time of diagnosis, priority is then given to the acute symptoms — this may contribute to the fact that not all physical illnesses are recorded,” says Schoepf. Perception disorders and the less acute pain sensations of addicted persons can also cause certain conditions to not be detected by doctors.

The greater risk for mortality among alcohol dependent patients in general hospitals reveals that addiction is most likely at the root of many physical health problems and that it should be treated at a significantly earlier stage, according to the researchers.

“Through diligent screening and early treatment of concomitant mental and physical illnesses, it should be possible to significantly increase the life expectancy of alcoholic patients,” says Heun.

Source: University of Bonn