Alcohol Behind Many ER Visits

It plays part in far more cases than previously thought, study says

WEDNESDAY, March 24, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The number of people in the United States who go to hospital emergency rooms for treatment of alcohol-related illnesses or injuries is about three times greater than previously estimated, says a Massachusetts General Hospital study.

Researchers examined data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey for 1992 through 2000 and identified an estimated 68.6 million alcohol-related emergency department (ED) visits. That's an average of 7.6 million alcohol-related ED visits per year.

From 1992 to 2000, alcohol-related visits accounted for 7.6 percent of the total 866.5 million ED visits.

People aged 30 to 49 had twice the rate of ED visits with diagnoses considered to be completely attributable to alcohol than people 50 or older or those aged 15 to 29. The visit rate for men with diagnoses completely attributable to alcohol was three times higher than for women. The visit rate for blacks with such diagnoses was twice that of 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," the study authors write.

"Our nine-year study also reveals a rising trend in the number and rate of a widening gap between sexes and a shrinking gap between races among those seen in the ED with certain alcohol-related diagnoses," they write.

The authors suggest that "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."

The study appeared in a recent issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about alcoholism.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives, news release, March 2004
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