Alcohol abuse affects one quarter of all people in intensive care in Scotland.One quarter of all intensive care patients in Scotland have alcohol problems with most of those patients being treated for chronic alcohol disease.
A new survey of all 24 Scottish intensive care units has found that alcohol abuse is still a major problem for Scotland, especially among men and young people. This not only puts additional strain on intensive care, it also has negative implications for the patients themselves.
"Alcohol disease adversely affects the outcome of critically ill patients and the burden of this in Scotland is higher than elsewhere in the UK" says the surveys co-author Dr Timothy Geary, Anaesthetic Registrar at the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow.
The study also found that alcohol abuse is most likely to strike the people who are least equipped to deal with it. This means many patients have no idea of the damage done to them by drinking. Unfortunately, that usually means they do not admitted for treatment until their condition has become extremely severe.
"Patients with alcohol problems tended to be significantly younger and admissions from deprived areas of the country were also more likely to be alcohol related. Patients with alcohol problems also needed to be mechanically ventilated for longer. We estimate that, overall, alcohol related admissions cost intensive care units across Scotland £9 million a year," Geary said.
With alcohol abuse hitting poorer rural areas hard, many people in desperate need of treatment may be unable to find or afford the appropriate help. This is exacerbated by the culture of drinking inherent in Scotland and the UK.
Since 1963, the amount of pure alcohol consumed has more than doubled from 5 litres per person per year to more than 10 litres. This has led to a rise in alcohol related deaths and illness with deaths nearly doubling since 1992. More worrying is the fact that many experts believe the number of alcohol related deaths in Scotland are underestimated. In a review of the Scottish mortality records from 2003, the direct cost of alcohol misuse was £94 million. That number rose by as much as £296.8 million by 2007.
"In Scotland the frequency and volume of alcohol consumed is significantly higher than in the rest of the UK, as is the proportion of people with hazardous drinking habits. This corresponds to higher death rates, particularly for Scottish men, but only indicates a fraction of the deaths attributed to alcohol,” Geary said
"It is very clear that the increased costs identified by our intensive care unit study are part of a much wider problem caused by rising levels of alcohol abuse."