Majority of Emergency Department Visits for Underage Drinking Are Males
Based on SAMHSA’s latest Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report, adolescents ages 12–20 made 575,092 emergency department (ED) visits that were related to substance abuse in 2008. Of this amount, 32.9%, or 188,981 ED visits, were caused by alcohol abuse. While 70% of alcohol-related ED visits were caused by alcohol alone, 30% of alcohol-related ED visits involved alcohol combined with another substance (56,727 visits). The most commonly abused drug combined with alcohol was marijuana (57.3% of alcohol-related ED visits), followed by anti-anxiety medications (17.8%), narcotic pain relievers (15.3%), and cocaine (13.3%).
Furthermore, the report found that the majority of ED visits involving underage drinking were made by 18–20 year olds (60.3% of all visits), indicating that teenagers tend to consume more alcohol as they age. Also, the majority of alcohol-related ED visits involving adolescents were made by males (58.6%). For all alcohol-related ED visits, 53.4% of 12–17 year olds and 62.1% of 18–20 year olds were male.
Most adolescent or young adult patients in the ED for alcohol use were treated and released to home (72.3%), and 6.1% were released to police or jail. However, 19.1% of patients (or 1 in 5 adolescents) were referred to follow-up care, including transfer to another health care facility, admission to an inpatient unit, or referral to a detoxification or substance abuse treatment program. Most incidents requiring follow-up care involved an adolescent’s alcohol use in combination with another substance. Of those patients admitted to the ED for alcohol use only, 12% were referred to follow-up care, but 35.5% of those patients who had used alcohol in combination with another substance were sent to follow-up care. This pattern of follow-up care was common among both age groups and genders.
Today, adolescents are drinking alcohol more often than using tobacco or illicit substances. On average, SAMHSA’s 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that adolescents who used alcohol within the past month consume more alcohol per drinking occasion than drinking adults (4.9 drinks vs. 2.8 drinks). NSDUH also showed that 26.4% of adolescents had consumed alcohol in the past month, and 17.4% were considered to be binge drinkers (consuming five or more drinks during one drinking day at least once in the past month).
According to SAMHSA, underage drinking remains a large and costly public health concern. Underage drinking may lead adolescents to more severe consequences, including illicit drug use, damage to the developing brain, risky sexual behavior, violence, injury, and death. Adolescents who engage in such severe drinking habits to require emergency medical assistance are considered to be at high risk of self-injury; however, the emergency room offers a great opportunity for family and medical personnel to perform an effective method of intervention that typically has shown to produce lasting improvements in adolescents’ behavioral choices.
Sources: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA Reports on Hospital Emergency Department Visits Involving Underage Alcohol Use, August 6, 2010
Fierce Healthcare, Sandra Yin, Males Dominate Hospital ED Visits by Underage Drinkers, August 10, 2010