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Research Summary

Alcohol and Drug Use Common in Hours Preceding Illness or Injury

Routine screening for risky drug and alcohol use among patients seeking care in emergency departments (EDs) and primary care practices is uncommon. Although national surveys such as the Drug Abuse Warning Network measure trends in ED visits associated with drug abuse, trends in alcohol-associated visits are not well monitored. Researchers conducted population-based surveys in 1995, 2000, and 2005 asking respondents whether illness or injury in the past year had resulted in a primary care or ED visit and, if so, whether they had used drugs or alcohol in the 6 hours preceding the onset of illness or injury. Between 4900 and 7600 persons participated in each of the 3 surveys, with response rates ranging from 56–77%.

  • Drug-associated ED visits were reported by 0.6% of respondents in 1995, 2.7% in 2000, and 3.7% in 2005 (p<0.01 for trend).
  • Alcohol-associated ED visits did not change significantly over time.
  • No changes in drug- or alcohol-associated primary care visits were observed.


A rising proportion of persons report ED visits with drug use prior to presentation for the illness or injury. While these self-reported data do not delineate the proportion of all ED or primary care visits precipitated by drug or alcohol use, they underscore the potential value of offering screening and intervention in these settings.

Marc N. Gourevitch, MD, MPH



Cherpitel CJ, Ye Y. Trends in alcohol- and drug-related ED and primary care visits: data from three U.S. national surveys (1995–2005). Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2008;34(5):576–583.