Alcohol Research Substance Use

Improved diagnosis and treatment of alcohol withdrawal needed: study

The treatment of alcohol withdrawal needs to change in order to improve patient outcomes and reduce health care costs, according to new research from the BC Centre on Substance Use.

Researchers found that patients are often over-admitted into inpatient care, resulting in a poor experience for the patient and unnecessary use of health care resources. They identified an easy-to-administer screening tool to assess symptoms and risks before recommending acute treatment, and to look at outpatient care to improve patient outcomes and ease the burden on the health system.

The study, published Aug. 28 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, involved more than 71,000 patients and sought to predict which patients were most at risk of developing severe, complicated alcohol withdrawal – a potentially life-threatening emergency.

Dr. Evan Wood

“Alcohol addiction is not only the most common substance use disorder, it’s among the most devastating in terms of both health impacts and the costs to our health system,” said Dr. Evan Wood, executive director of the BCCSU and lead author of the study. “This study demonstrates that there are more sophisticated tools that the health system should be employing to provide more appropriate care for patients, which will result not only in better outcomes but also free-up resources for high-priority needs.”

A study by the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction found alcohol use costs Canadians $14.6 billion per year in health care, lost production, criminal justice, and other direct costs – higher than all other substances combined.

Meanwhile, B.C. has the highest rate in the country of hospitalizations entirely caused by alcohol, and consumption is rising faster in the province than elsewhere in Canada.

“Hospital wards are often filled with individuals suffering the consequences alcohol addiction,” said Dr. Keith Ahamad, a co-author on the BCCSU study and Medical Director at Vancouver Coastal Health’s Regional Addiction Program. “This study helps identify those who truly need admission and demonstrates that many patients can be better treated as outpatients, even in primary care.”

The BCCSU is currently developing provincial guidelines for treating alcohol use disorder, expected to be released later this year.

This story was adapted from a BCCSU news release. Click here to read it in its entirely.

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