Study objectives: To determine the rates of alcohol-related morbidity and mortality in a cohort of intoxicated ED patients 5 years after presentation and to compare them with those of non-intoxicated ED patients.
Methods: The study group comprised 150 consecutive ED patients who presented with intoxication (blood alcohol level higher than 100 mg/dL) in June 1986 and 50 control patients matched for age, sex, ED arrival time, and date. The setting was an urban university hospital ED. Morbidity and mortality over a 5-year follow-up period were measured using hospital ED and admission records from all state Level I trauma centers and computerized statewide databases.
Results: The 5-year mortality rate among alcohol-intoxicated patients was 2.4 times that of the comparison group (95% confidence interval, .3 to 18.9). The 5-year death rate among intoxicated patients aged 40 to 69 years was especially high (19%). Thirty-seven percent of the intoxicated patients made at least one alcohol-related ED revisit during the follow-up period, compared with 6% of the comparison group (P < .001). Intoxicated patients were more likely to revisit EDs because of suicidal behavior or domestic violence (P = .001). Admission to an alcohol detoxification unit during the follow-up period occurred in 24% of the intoxicated patients, compared with 10% of the sober controls (P = .03). At least one arrest for drunk driving occurred in 47% of the intoxicated group; the rate was lower, but still substantial, in the comparison group (20%, P < .001).
Conclusion: A single alcohol-related ED visit is an important predictor of continued problem drinking, alcohol-impaired driving and, possibly, premature death.