A new study claims that visits to U.S. emergency rooms for alcohol intoxication have risen by more than 50 percent in the last decade.
These visits have also gotten longer and more demanding on hospital resources, say researchers.
"These visits place a strain on the U.S. emergency care system and represent a public health problem," wrote researchers from The George Washington University's Center for Healthcare Innovation and Policy Research in the Oct. 7 issue of the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.
The researchers looked at information from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, focusing on ER visits during which patients received diagnoses of alcohol intoxication or alcohol abuse. Those visiting the ER for “alcohol-related problems,” “adverse effects of alcohol,” “alcohol detoxification” and “alcoholism” were also included in the study.
What researchers found was that from 2010 to 2011, there were an estimated 3.8 million ER visits related to alcohol intoxication, up from 2.4 million visits in the years 2001-2002.
The overall length of stay for alcohol-related ER visits grew by 16 percent, from roughly five hours in 2001-2002 to 5.8 hours in 2010- 2011. According to study co-author Peter Mullins, this growth is likely due to the increase in the intensity of care that patients with alcohol intoxication received in the ER.
Mullins added that factors like the increased use of CT/MRI scans and intravenous fluids (which also grew during the study period) could be playing a role in longer ER stints.
“Given the number of hours these patients spend in the [emergency department], these visits represent an opportunity for intervention on the part of emergency providers," wrote the researchers.
The researchers said these findings are “particularly striking” since previous studies have noted a dip in binge-drinking behavior in the U.S. during the same time period. They said more research will be needed to identify the reasoning for this rise in alcohol-related ER visits.
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