Objective: To determine the association between alcohol dependence (alcoholism not in remission and/or alcohol withdrawal) and sepsis, septic shock, and hospital mortality among intensive care unit (ICU) patients.
Design: Retrospective cohort study.
Setting: Two ICUs in an urban hospital.
Patients: Patients included 11,651 adult admissions to Denver Health Medical Center from January 1, 1999, to December 31, 2004, with >or=1 ICU day.
Measurements and main results: Of first admissions appearing in the data set (n=9,981), 1,222 (12.2%) had a diagnosis consistent with alcohol dependence. These patients had higher rates of sepsis (12.9% vs. 7.6%, p<.001), organ failure (67.3% vs. 45.8%, p<.001), septic shock (3.6% vs. 2.1%, p=.001), and hospital mortality (9.4% vs. 7.5%, p=.022) on unadjusted analyses. Patients with alcohol dependence also had fewer hospital-free days. After adjustment for factors with known association with sepsis, alcohol dependence was associated with sepsis. This association was modified if the patient received (adjusted odds ratio, 0.92; 95% confidence interval, 0.65-1.31) or did not receive (adjusted odds ratio, 1.91; 95% confidence interval, 1.49-2.44) red cell transfusions. A general predisposition to infections mediated some, but not all, of this association. Results were similar when repeat admissions were included in the analysis. Alcohol dependence was also associated with septic shock and hospital mortality in multivariable analyses. Among those with liver disease and sepsis, alcohol dependence was associated with more than two-fold increased risk-adjusted odds of hospital mortality (adjusted odds ration, 2.31; 95% confidence interval, 1.26-4.24). Similarly, sepsis and liver disease carried higher odds of death for alcohol-dependent patients than for those without alcohol dependence.
Conclusions: Alcohol dependence is independently associated with sepsis, septic shock, and hospital mortality among ICU patients. The underlying mechanisms of this association require exploration, as an increased rate of infections mediated some, but not all, of this association.