Risk of death increases with multiple alcohol-related emergency room visits

According to the results of a new study, people who visit the emergency room at least twice in 12 months due to alcohol-related reasons are more likely to die within one year. The study, conducted in Ontario by researchers at International Credential Evaluation Service (ICES) and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found that one in 20 people who ended up in the hospital two or more times over a 12-month period for mental and behavioural issues related to alcohol died within one year of their first visit.

“Our study shows a high mortality rate in relatively young, mostly urban, lower-income individuals with frequent alcohol-related ED visits,” said Dr. Paul Kurdyak, senior author and scientist at ICES and CAMH in a statement. “These visits should be seen as critical opportunities for intervention on a high-risk population to reduce avoidable mortality.”

The study involved examining the records of more than 25,000 individuals aged 16 or older who had at least two visits to hospital emergency departments in a 12-month period for mental and behavioural disorders that were related to alcohol. The study did not include admissions for other alcohol-related incidents, such as vehicle accidents.

Of all the individual records examined, about two-thirds of individuals had two visits to emergency departments, 22% of them had three to four visits, and 12% had five or more emergency room visits. It was found that about one in 20 of the individuals examined in the study died within a year of their last visit to emergency. Importantly, the risk of death doubled for individuals who had five or more visits to the emergency department. Most of the deaths examined involved accidental poisoning, suicide, trauma and diseases of the digestive system.

“A combination of high mortality and low hospital admission rates suggests that frequent emergency department visits in this population signal an unmet need. Given our cohort’s relatively young age, effective interventions have the potential to prevent premature mortality and reduce hospital use,” states the conclusion of the published study.

The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), also showed that over two-thirds of individuals who had five or more visits were male, almost half of them were aged 45 to 64 years, and nearly 90% of the individuals examined lived in urban centres, with 40% of those coming from the lowest-income neighbourhoods.

The authors of the study suggest that frequent visits should signal the need to screen patients for problematic drinking and unmet social and health-care needs.


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