Alcohol-Related Emergency Department Visits on the Rise in California

Alcohol Related Emergency Department Visits On the Rise

Across the country, emergency departments (EDs) have experienced greater influxes of alcohol-related incidents, including incidents that result in patients being admitted to the hospital for further treatment. 

Each year EDs find themselves dealing with critical and noncritical cases alike. One of the most common reasons to visit an ED, for example, is chest pain. Nevertheless, amidst the myriad of reasons people seek help from an ED, the rising numbers of cases for alcohol-related incidents cannot be ignored. According to a publication from NPR,  alcohol-related ED visits were up 61% in 2014 when compared to 2006.  

California is no stranger to this phenomenon with its rates of alcohol use disorder on the rise amidst a variety of other misused substances. A report published by the California Health Care Foundation titled “Substance Use in California: A Look at Addiction and Treatment” finds that “alcohol use disorder was more prevalent than other types of substance use disorders.”

Alcohol related emergency department visits up 64%

So, the question remains: Why have ED visits seen such a large jump in the past decade or so? And why is alcohol an increasingly prevalent misused substance?  

The California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) published a release that assessed the rates of any alcohol-related ED visits between 2008 and 2017. One existing study, published in 2018, examined the rates of alcohol-related incidents across the country between the years of 2006 and 2014. That national study found a 50% increase in such visits, prompting the OSHPD to pursue a more localized study.

Not only are people visiting the ER more frequently, but are also staying longer.

As it turns out, this national trend was also apparent in California. In about 10 years, from 2008 to 2017, California witnessed a whopping “66.7% increase in alcohol-related ED visits.” Not to be outdone by national trends, there was also a “36.9% increase in alcohol-related admissions.” Although many people might come to an ED for assistance, not every patient is admitted to the hospital for further treatment or observation. However, the worrisome data indicates that not only are more patients coming into emergency departments, they’re staying longer to be treated.

54% of adults 18-25 reported alcohol use in 2015

It’s true that not every person who visits an ED for an alcohol-related issue has an alcohol addiction. However, it is undeniable that from 2015 to 2016 in California, 54.1% of individuals aged 18-25 reported alcohol use. Alcohol use in this case refers to “— multiple drinks on a single occasion — in the past month.” Of that same age group, 36% reported binge alcohol use. Meanwhile, 53.9% of individuals age 26 and older reported alcohol use with 24.2% of individuals reporting binge alcohol use.

36 % reported binge drinking

The California Health Care Foundation’s publication noted that “Alcohol accounted for more nonfatal emergency department visits than all other drug diagnoses combined.” Between 2012 and 2014, the comparison between ED visits for alcohol compared to other drugs is extraordinarily apparent, especially when viewed in a bar graph.

Fatal ER visits statistics

 In addition, that same report explains that out of the population of individuals age 12 and older who have an alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence, 93% did not receive any treatment. Sadly, the report also notes that the “state’s rate of treatment for alcohol use disorder is similar to the national average.” It is clear that while many people of diverse backgrounds and ages are struggling with alcohol use, not enough are receiving proper treatment.

Why Are the Alcohol-Related Incidents Increasing?

Naturally, the burning question behind all this is: why? Citizens, government officials, and scientists and researchers alike are all curious to know the answer. With a comprehensive answer, steps can be taken to try and head off these increasing ED visit rates and support an overall healthier population.

Why are ER visits increasing

Unfortunately, finding a clear answer as to why these kinds of alcohol-related hospital admissions or ED visits are rising is difficult with so many factors to consider. As a result, any answers about why women, especially, are catching up to men’s rates of ED visits remains largely shrouded in uncertainty.

Without any definitive evidence, concrete statements are difficult to make. Nevertheless, there are some factors that are put forth as possible explanations.

As it turns out, women catching up to men in terms of alcohol consumption seems to be a worldwide phenomenon, although it is certainly more evident in some countries than others. The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in Australia (NDARC) suggests that “in many countries around the world we have seen substantial developments in broader social, cultural, and economic factors for women and increasingly accepting societal norms around female drinking.”  

In combination with these evolving social norms and factors, you can take into account the ease of access that many people have to alcohol. Alcohol is an easily acquired substance in the United States and many other countries. Here, liquor is found not just in homes, but in drugstores, dedicated liquor stores, restaurants, and grocery stores.

As the culture becomes more accepting of cultural norms surrounding drinking, rates of alcohol consumption could be expected to rise. Additionally, the United States’ attitude towards drinking, especially in younger people, is often used as a contrasting example to Europe’s attitude toward alcohol. Oftentimes, the U.S. is viewed as having a “drink to get drunk” culture whereas many European countries view alcohol as a staple part of a meal.

Although there is no singular reason we can point to and definitively declare is the reason that alcohol-related incidents are rising, there seem to be numerous factors and variables that mix together and create these phenomena that we then identify through statistics.

What Can Be Done To Help?

Two main ideas emerge as useful tools in combating the rising alcohol-use incident rates: identifying the proper groups that need treatment and providing resources to better connect people with professional treatment facilities.

What can be done to help?

Who Needs Help?

When healthcare providers, rehab facilities, and even state and local governments are identifying where to best allocate their resources, focusing in on very narrow, specific demographics can help those who need help the most. Nationally, alcohol-related ED visit numbers rose especially high among women.

While men ultimately rack up higher national numbers, women are quickly catching up. A research study published in “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research” made note of the exorbitant rates of alcohol-related ED visits and the seemingly unanswerable question concerning higher rates of these incidents in women. One of the authors of the paper, Aaron White, a neuroscientist and Senior Scientific Advisor with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), discussed the findings in an NPR article.

Arron White PHD Quote

White is described as being “puzzled by a higher rate of increase in alcohol-related ER visits year to year among women, who are catching up with men nationally in overall drinking as well as in binge-drinking, drunk driving, and deaths from cirrhosis of the liver.”

He further elaborates in a blog published by the NIAAA that “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.”

Nevertheless, although we may not be able to identify exactly why women are heavily contributing to the rise of ED visits, knowing that women’s rates have gone up is already valuable information that can help guide appropriate steps forward. And, of course, there are many social and cultural factors to consider when it concerns women and alcohol-related incidents, as previously mentioned.

Although the scientific community would surely prefer to have solid answers about the “why” of the situation, the ability to identify which demographics are trending upward in ED visits remains helpful.

Even without a clear explanation for rising statistics, it is clear that women in our state and across the country could benefit from some professional support and treatment. Identifying women as a group that requires more assistance and resources for alcohol treatment helps our state move forward to assist women who need help.

Connecting People To Resources

In addition to women, the NIAAA seems to be interested in tackling alcohol use from a young age. This approach has the potential to head off more serious health complications down the road and assist more young people in leading a healthy life. Although youth in California use alcohol at a lower rate than those 18 and older, there is still a significant portion that reports alcohol use. The California Health Care Foundation’s report states that 9.1% of youth age 12 to 17 use alcohol. Within that same group, 5.1% binge-drink.

1 in 3 children start drinking by 8

In an attempt to address the concerns of youth alcohol use across the nation, physicians and other medical staff are needed to identify alcohol use earlier in a patient. The NIAAA published “Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention for Youth: A Practitioner’s Guide” as a resource to better screen children for alcohol use. The publication opens with a sobering remark that “1 in 3 children starts drinking by the end of 8th grade.”

Making it easier to get treatment

Access to quality treatment is the last piece of the puzzle. By making it easier for people who need addiction treatment to connect with information and evidence-based treatment programs, more people can get the help they need. In order to address this need, the NIAAA launched an online treatment navigator called the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator. The Navigator is intended to help adults find professional alcohol addiction treatment for themselves or loved ones.

Making Progress Through Connections

There are many questions that remain concerning California’s large spike in alcohol-related ED incidents. At the same time, there are many theories and great suggestions put forth from researchers and government health agencies about this growing nationwide trend.

We may not be able to identify exactly why this is happening, but we do know that it is happening. Now, all we can do is properly react to the situation at hand. We know that people in our state need help. By looking at the data and paying attention to which groups of people are being affected by these incidents, both addiction treatment centers and government agencies can respond with proper resource allocation.

Together, we can support one another in seeking the benefits to quitting drinking and gaining the opportunity to make a difference in lives.

Pathways Alcohol ER visits cta

Get Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder at Pathways Recovery

At Pathways Recovery, we care deeply about each client who comes into our program and treat them as the unique individual that they are. We know that in our state, there are clearly many people struggling with alcohol addiction and dependency, and we’re here to support our local community every step of the way.

Our facility is created to be as home-like as possible to ensure the comfort of every client and welcome every person as if it were your own home. In addition, our holistic approach to treatment takes into account the mental, physical, and spiritual well-being of our clients. Our well-rounded approach to treatment is not rigid, but flexible and invites our clients to actively participate and engage.

If you have any questions or are ready to take the next steps towards getting alcohol addiction treatment, give us a call at (916) 735-8377.

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Alcohol-related ED Visits Infographic

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