Increasing Alcohol Use Tied to More Hospitalization

Heavy drinkers were affected most, but link holds for even mild use, study finds

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WEDNESDAY, July 1, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- The more alcohol men drink, the more time they spend in a hospital, research from the United Kingdom has found.

The study, which involved nearly 6,000 men in Scotland ages 35 to 64, began during the early 1970s. Initially, the men were given a comprehensive health examination and were asked about their alcohol consumption. Based on their answers, they were placed in different groups: no alcohol, 1 to 7 units a week, 8 to 14 units a week, 15 to 21 units a week, 22 to 34 units a week and 35 or more units a week or more.

A unit of alcohol, or an average drink, was considered to be half a pint of beer (about a cup) or a 4-ounce glass of wine, for example, according to the study.

The researchers tracked the men's health for an average of 28 years, focusing on the occurrence of heart and respiratory diseases, stroke and alcohol-related illnesses and conditions.

Men who drank more than 22 units of alcohol a week had a 20 percent higher hospital admission rate than non-drinkers, the study found.

Even relatively low levels of alcohol consumption were associated with a higher number of days spent in the hospital, the researchers found. Drinkers of eight or more units of alcohol a week were hospitalized more days than non-drinkers, and the length of stay increased as weekly consumption of alcohol went up.

The heaviest drinkers spent 58 percent longer in a hospital than non-drinkers, according to the study.

The study, published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, also found that:

  • Weekly consumption of 15 units of alcohol was associated with an increased number of hospital admissions for stroke, and the number progressively increased with greater levels of alcohol consumption.
  • Men who drank 22 or more units a week had more hospital admissions for respiratory illness but had the lowest admission rates for coronary heart disease. Non-drinkers had the highest rates of admission for coronary heart disease.
  • Those who drank 22 or more units a week had more admissions for mental health problems, but non-drinkers had higher rates of admissions for mental health than those who drank 1 to 14 units of alcohol a week.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about the health effects of alcohol.

SOURCE: BMJ Specialist Journals, news release, July 1, 2009

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