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Misuse of alcohol - a major disruption to the emergency department

By: Yolanda Smith – MedicalSearch Writer
10 March, 2015

The ability of the emergency department (ED) to help people in need of urgent medical management is being severely disrupted by our nation's misuse of alcohol.

In fact one in seven of all presentations to the ED in Australia and New Zealand are related to unsafe levels of alcohol consumption.

Australian drinking culture

There has been a long history of a social drinking culture in Australia, which continues to be evident at events and functions today. Particularly in younger populations, it is common for alcohol to be consumed in excess and binge drinking habits to form.

This misuse of alcohol can cause harm to consumers directly with related health effects and can also lead to other incidents, such as road accidents.

As a result, there are many patients seeking urgent medical care that may have been avoidable with safer alcohol consumption. This puts an unnecessary burden on the Australian healthcare system – the emergency department in particular – and has the potential to lower the quality of care given to those that need it most.

Effect on the Emergency Department

The emergency department plays an important role in the health system. It is the first port of call for patients that are in urgent need of medical care and it is important they receive the attention required.

With the high rate of alcohol-related incidents presenting to the ED, staff working in the department can become thinly spread to meet the demand and there is often limited time to give each patient the care they deserve.

The disruptive effect of alcohol misuse on the emergency department is no small problem with a simple resolution; it will likely need time and several approaches to slowly heal the wound.

A possible solution

Brief intervention is one method that some practitioners are applying in a clinical setting today. It involves non-invasive counseling of patients and their friends that present to the emergency department after incidents associated with unsafe alcohol consumption.

It is intended that patients will consider the safety of their drinking habits with the help of this intervention and be able to access help to improve them if the desire is there.

Read more about how brief intervention helps

In the future, preventative methods to help direct Australia's drinking culture into a more positive and healthy position would be highly beneficial. However, this would take some years to show results in practice and the emergency department continues to take the blow in the meantime.

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