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Alcohol Related ED Visits Up, Especially Among Middle-Aged Women

If it seems like you are treating a lot more patients for adverse effects related to alcohol use, here are some government statistics to back up your observation.

A report published online by the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research states that alcohol-related visits to U.S. emergency departments (EDs) shot up by nearly 50% between 2006 and 2014.

Researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) pointed out that was especially the case for women and middle-aged or older imbibers.

“In just nine years, the number of people transported to the ED annually for medical emergencies caused or exacerbated by alcohol increased from about 3 million to 5 million,” pointed out NIAAA Director George F. Koob, PhD. “These findings are indicative of the detrimental effects that acute and chronic alcohol misuse have on public health, and the significant burden they place on our healthcare system.”

Data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS) were analyzed to reach those determinations. Trends in ED visits between 2006 and 2014 involving acute and chronic alcohol consumption among individuals 12 and older were documented, and visits related to acute alcohol consumption were classified by standard diagnostic codes related to alcohol misuse over a short period of time, such as acute alcohol intoxication and accidental alcohol poisoning. At the same time, visits involving chronic alcohol misuse were identified by diagnostic codes for conditions related to long-term drinking, such as alcohol withdrawal and alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver.

With an average annual increase of 210,000 alcohol-related ED visits, the rate of visits for acute alcohol consumption went up 40%, and the rate of visits related to chronic alcohol consumption increased 58%.

What was the price tag? Data indicate that total annual costs of alcohol-related visits increased from $4.1 billion to $15.3 billion over the time period.

“During the study period, the number of people in the United States who drank alcohol and the total amount of alcohol consumed each year remained about the same,” explained Aaron White, PhD, senior scientific advisor to the NIAAA director. “We suspect the increase in ED visits is related to an increase in the intensity of alcohol use among a subset of drinkers.”

Men still are more likely to seek emergency care for alcohol-related issues, but the rate of such visits increased more among females than males — 5.3% vs. 4% — with most of them caused by the increased annual rate of chronic alcohol misuse-related visits for females, 6.9%, compared to males, 4.5%.

“This trend is concerning given that females appear to be more susceptible to some of the detrimental health effects of alcohol,” White pointed out.

The highest rates of acute alcohol misuse-related ED visits were by 45- to 54-year-olds of both sexes, with the largest increases occurring in the 45- to 54-year-old and 55- to 64-year-old age groups. For chronic alcohol misuse-related ED visits, on the other hand, rates also were highest among 45- to 54-year-olds and 55- to 64-year-olds, but the sharpest increases occurred in 25- to 34-year-olds and 55- to 64-year-olds.