One in five in-patients in the UK hospital system uses alcohol harmfully, and one in 10 is alcohol dependent. This is the finding of a new systematic review and meta-analysis published in the journal Addiction.
The study authors searched Medline, Embase, PsychINFO and CENTRAL from database inception until 1 May 2018 to identify studies of any design that reported the prevalence of one of 26 wholly attributable alcohol conditions, including mental and behavioural disorders, alcohol poisoning, gastrointestinal disorders, alcohol-related liver disease and other conditions such as alcohol myopathy and foetal alcohol syndrome.
Studies were required to be conducted in an in-patient setting in the UK (general wards, intensive care units, accident, and emergency departments or mental health in-patient units).
A total of 124 studies involving almost 1.66 million patients were included. The majority of studies reported on harmful use of alcohol and alcohol dependence.
Data analysis revealed a pooled prevalence of 19.76 per cent (95% CI, 15.61%-24.26%) for harmful alcohol use, 10 times higher than the rate in the general UK population. The prevalence of alcohol dependence was 10.25 per cent (95% CI, 7.06%-13.96%), eight times higher than the general population.
Mean patient age and type of in-patient setting were identified as the main sources of variation in prevalence estimates. Harmful use was most prevalent in mental health in‐patient units. Alcohol dependence was most prevalent in A&E units.
The authors say hospital clinicians should be skilled in the diagnosis and management of alcohol‐related conditions. Given that other chronic diseases with lower in‐hospital prevalence (e.g. diabetes) are routinely screened for, the study findings advocate for increased routine universal screening for alcohol‐related conditions.