Ontario emergency rooms see spike in women binge drinking

Sep 5, 2019

According to the results of a new research study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), emergency room alcohol-related visits by women have increased by 86.5%, compared to 53.2% for men, adding an increased strain on overburdened emergency departments in Ontario.

The study, led by Dr. Daniel Myran at the School of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Ottawa, as well as by researchers at The Ottawa Hospital, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, ICES uOttawa and the Bruyère Research Institute, demonstrates that excessive alcohol consumption has a significant and increasing impact on emergency department volumes.

The results of the study also show that while middle-aged men remain the most frequent patients of emergency departments, young women and adults in their late 20s are not far behind. The data of the study was collected by ICES, and included emergency room visits due to alcohol in Ontario between the period of 2003 to 2016.

“We saw problems with people who were coming in who were intoxicated, people who were coming in in withdrawal, people coming in with liver disease, with all sorts of other organ damage that comes from that. And people who’ve had poisonings from drinking too much alcohol as well,”

Dr. Daniel Myran, study leader, to CTV News.

The study has revealed that the rate of increase of emergency room visits due to alcohol has become 4.4 times greater than the overall increase in visits for all causes. Moreover, there were disproportionately more patients visiting the emergency department for alcohol intoxication who ended up getting admitted to the hospital.

Individuals residing in low-income neighbourhoods were more than twice as likely as those who were living in wealthier neighbourhoods to need emergency medical attention due to alcohol-related causes. The authors of the study have also noted that the rising number of patients presenting to the emergency department with alcohol intoxication cannot be explained by the general increase in the total number of emergency patients.

“Health-care providers need to be thinking about providing more services screening individuals for unhealthy alcohol use. This can’t just be about catching people when they’ve had serious complications or when they’ve developed an alcohol use disorder.”

Dr. Daniel Myran, study leader, School of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Ottawa

In her commentary to the study in CMAJ, Dr. Sheryl Spithoff, family and addiction medicine physician at Women’s College Hospital, and lecturer at the University of Toronto, said that women are disproportionately at risk. Dr. Spithoff noted a 26% increase in alcohol-related deaths among women. According to Dr. Spithoff, public policies could help to reduce alcohol-related risks, such as augmenting the price of alcohol through taxation and banning the promotion of alcohol.

Dr. Daniel Myran has pointed out that in addition to alcohol-related emergency room visits, alcohol increases the risk of addiction and organ damage, and contributes to many types of cancer. Furthermore, alcohol-related harms include violence, motor vehicle accidents and medical disorders such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.