Alcohol-related visits to the emergency department by injured adolescents: a national perspective

James G Linakis, Thomas H Chun, Michael J Mello, Janette Baird
Journal of Adolescent Health 2009, 45 (1): 84-90

PURPOSE: Alcohol use is a risk factor for injury in adolescents. Many injured adolescents require treatment in emergency departments (EDs). The present study was intended to explore this association between adolescent alcohol use and injury-related ED visits using the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS), a nationally representative probability sample of visits to EDs.

METHODS: This was a retrospective, cross-sectional study using data from NHAMCS for 2001 through 2004. ED visits by injured adolescents aged 13-20 years whose visits were determined by NHAMCS coders to be related to alcohol were compared with visits by those whose visits were determined not related to alcohol. Specific variables of interest included demographic and medical characteristics of visits.

RESULTS: Our analyses indicated that there were several visit-related characteristics that were associated with alcohol-related ED visits, including time of visit, type of health insurance, and geographic location of the ED. Similarly, there were a number of patient-related characteristics that were also associated with alcohol-related visits to the ED, including patient acuity and injury intentionality.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that injured adolescents are more likely to present to the ED with an alcohol-related visit during the early hours of the morning, that the injury is more likely to be assault related and of higher acuity than non-alcohol-related visits. These findings suggest the ED as a potential site for alcohol prevention interventions with younger adolescents. However, these interventions will need to take into account when such adolescents will present to the ED and will need also to recognize that factors such as violence and aggression, in addition to alcohol use, may be important issues to address in the intervention.

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