The rate of alcohol-related visits to U.S. emergency departments (EDs) increased by nearly 50 percent between 2006 and 2014, especially among females and drinkers who are middle-aged or older, according to a new study conducted by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) researchers.
“In just 9 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,” says NIAAA Director George F. Koob, Ph.D. “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 health care system.”
As reported in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers led by Aaron M. White, Ph.D., Senior Scientific Advisor to the NIAAA Director, analyzed data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS), the largest ED database in the United States. The research team assessed trends in ED visits that involved acute and chronic alcohol consumption among individuals 12 and older.
In the study, ED visits related to acute alcohol consumption were classified by standard diagnostic codes associated with alcohol misuse over a short period of time, such as acute alcohol intoxication and accidental alcohol poisoning, while visits involving chronic alcohol misuse were identified by diagnostic codes for conditions associated with long-term drinking, such as alcohol withdrawal and alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver.
The rate of all alcohol-related ED visits increased 47 percent between 2006 and 2014, which translates to an average annual increase of 210,000 alcohol-related ED visits. The rate of visits for acute alcohol consumption rose by 40 percent, and the rate of visits related to chronic alcohol consumption increased 58 percent. The NEDS data also showed that total annual costs of alcohol-related visits increased from $4.1 billion to $15.3 billion during this time.
Although men account for more alcohol-related ED visits than women, the rate of such visits increased more among females than males (5.3 percent versus 4.0 percent, annually). This increase was driven primarily by a larger increase in the rate of chronic alcohol misuse–related visits for females than males (6.9 percent versus 4.5 percent, annually).
“Recent studies suggest that the drinking habits of females and males are becoming more similar in the United States,” says Dr. White. “The larger increase in the rate of ED visits among females compared to males provides further evidence of narrowing gender gaps in alcohol use and related harms.”
White, A.M.; Slater, M.E.; Ng, G.; Hingson, R.; and Breslow, R. Trends in alcohol-related emergency department visits in the United States: Results from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample, 2006 to 2014. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research42(2):352–359, 2018. PMID: 29293274