Hospital Emergency Department Visits Involving Underage Alcohol Use

Released: 8/9/2010 9:10 AM EDT
Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA)

New report reveals that majority of the hospital emergency department visits in underage drinkers involved males

Newswise — A new report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) highlights the extent of the underage drinking problem in the nation through the lens of alcohol-related emergency department visits involving adolescents and young adults aged 12 to 20.

The new report shows that, in 2008, there were 188,981 alcohol-related visits to emergency departments by patients aged 12 to 20, accounting for about one third of the drug-related emergency department visits (32.9 percent) by this age group. According to the report, the majority of the emergency department visits in underage drinkers involved males -- 53.4 percent among those aged 12 to 17, and 62.1 percent among those aged 18 to 20.

The report further reveals that of the underage drinking emergency department visits, 70 percent involved alcohol alone while 30 percent involved alcohol in combination with other drugs. Of note, fifty-seven percent of these emergency department visits that involved alcohol combined with another drug, involved the use of marijuana. The report indicated that 17.8 percent of underage-drinking visits involving alcohol and drugs reported use of anti-anxiety drugs, 15.3 percent reported use of narcotic pain relievers, and 13.3 percent reported use of cocaine.

“Underage drinking is deeply ingrained in American culture. Alcohol consumption, especially by young males, is often seen as an exciting rite of passage into adulthood. This has led to a public health crisis with adolescents suffering serious injuries that oftentimes lead to tragic consequences," said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “Every such emergency department visit provides an opportunity to conduct brief interventions that can reduce future alcohol and drug abuse and save young men’s lives.”

The report also looked at the extent of follow-up care for patients using alcohol versus alcohol in combination with drugs. About one in five (19.1 percent) alcohol-related emergency department visits by patients, aged 12 to 20, had evidence of follow-up care. Most patients were treated and released to their home (72.3 percent). However, when visits involved alcohol in combination with other drugs, 35.5 percent had evidence of follow-up care.

The report, Emergency Department Visits Involving Underage Alcohol Use: 2008 can be found at: The study was developed as part of the agency’s strategic initiative on data, outcomes, and quality - an effort to inform policy makers and service providers on the nature and scope of behavioral health issues. It is based on SAMHSA’s 2008 Drug Alert Warning Network (DAWN) report. DAWN is a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related hospital emergency department visits reported throughout the nation.

Information and materials on how to help prevent underage drinking are available at:

SAMHSA is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services.