A new study of the prevalence of underage drinking highlights one of its significant consequences: hospitalization. Of the 40,000 youth ages 15 to 20 years who were hospitalized in 2008 and diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (AUD), 79 percent were intoxicated when they arrived at the hospital.
"Hospitalization for Underage Drinkers in the United States" was published in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. Terry D. Schneekloth, M.D., with the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and an author of the study says, "Our primary aim was an assessment of the scope of a significant consequence of underage drinking — hospitalization. We examined discharge records to determine the youth who were discharged with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) diagnosis. The AUD diagnoses included alcohol intoxication, alcohol dependence syndrome, nondependent abuse of alcohol and alcohol-induced mental disorders."
To determine the pervasiveness of the problem, Dr. Schneekloth and a team of researchers at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., used the National Inpatient Sample (NIS), a database of hospital and inpatient stays, to evaluate:
"The hypothesis was that hospitalization of underage drinkers is a significant issue," says Dr. Schneekloth. "We learned that the problem is both common and costly — estimated at $755 million in the year studied."
Using the NIS 2008 database, the most recent data available, the research team identified discharge records of individuals between 15 and 20 years of age who received a diagnosis of AUD. Hospitalization incidence rates were calculated on the basis of population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Characteristics of the hospitalizations included:
Up to 71 percent of high school students report having consumed alcohol at least once, although the prevalence of heavy drinking (more than five drinks in a row within the preceding two weeks) is lower (up to 23 percent). "When teenagers drink, they tend to drink excessively, putting them at risk of significant harmful consequences," says Dr. Schneekloth.
In 2009, Mayo Clinic implemented an assessment plan for any hospitalized patient with an identified alcohol use problem. A social worker trained in substance abuse assessment provides the evaluation and refers the patient for further professional assessment and treatment when indicated.
Harmful alcohol use in adolescence is also a harbinger of alcohol abuse in adulthood. "We hope these findings may help target substance abuse prevention efforts toward geographic and demographic groups at greatest risk," says Dr. Schneekloth.