Emergency Department Visits for Alcohol Increase over Independence Day

Heavy episodic drinking is associated with an increased risk for injury and dangerous sexual behaviors. Those who engage in heavy drinking may experience a loosening of inhibitions that leads to bad choices, resulting in hazardous situations. Often, holidays are a time of heavy drinking, with injuries sometimes leading to a visit to the hospital emergency department.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) releases regular reports about the trends in drug and alcohol behaviors in the United States. SAMHSA’s Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) monitors emergency department visits that involve any type of substance use and is useful in examining patterns in emergency department visits.

A recent report from SAMHSA provides information about the hospital emergency department visits involving underage drinking over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. The study showed that emergency department visits double for males over the holiday.

For the 2009 Fourth of July weekend, defined as July 3-5, there was a daily average of 942 emergency department visits related to alcohol use by individuals under the age of 21. Approximately two thirds of the cases reported were males (622) and 304 were females.

There was a significant difference between genders in emergency department visits during the holiday weekend versus other weekends during the year. Visits to the emergency department by females were not shown to be significantly different from the number of visits on other weekends, while males were shown to require an emergency department visit twice as many times as during the rest of the weekends of the year.

The study’s findings underscore the increased drinking that takes place over a holiday weekend. As noted by SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, what should be an enjoyable holiday time of celebration becomes a tragic event.

SAMHSA invites parents to visit their Web site to access a helpful action plan for communicating expectations about alcohol-related decisions to their children. Clear parental communication has been shown to be effective in reducing underage drinking. Parents should be very involved with their children’s alcohol decisions and should understand their role as an important source of information and guidance to their children when it comes to drinking.

The study was developed as an important component of SAMHSA’s strategic initiative on data, outcomes and quality, as an effort to provide information to policy makers and service providers on the trends developing in the United States regarding behavioral health issues.