Aims: The aim of the study was to describe the epidemiology, management and cost of emergency department (ED) visits due to alcohol intoxication.
Methods: A retrospective review of medical records of all episodes of alcohol intoxication was made, excepting those where another diagnosis such as trauma or psychiatric illness was primary, in patients older than 16 years, who presented to the ED of a large university hospital in Belgium over a 12-month period from 1 January 2009.
Results: A total of 635 such patients accounted for 1.2% of all ED visits; 429 were males and 48.3% were aged between 41 and 60 years; 63.8% of the patients had a history of alcohol use disorder and 60.3% had a history of psychiatric disorder; 74.3% of the patients received some form of medical treatment and 62% were seen by a psychiatrist. Of the total, 57.5% of the patients were admitted to the ED observation ward, with a mean length of stay of 8.4 h. The estimated total cost was €318 838.25, with an average of €541.32 per patient.
Conclusion: Alcohol intoxication leads to a financial burden on the community. In addition to imposing physical, social and psychological stress on the community, the often agitated or aggressive patient imposes stress on ED staff. Close surveillance of trends in alcohol abuse is warranted, and the ED should consider implementing a questionnaire method of screening for alcohol abuse.