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Research Summary

Alcohol-Related Diagnoses Increase Resource Use by Hospitalized Seniors

A number of studies have examined the prevalence of unhealthy alcohol use in older adults. Fewer studies, however, have assessed medical service use for alcohol-related conditions in this population. In an 11-state study of 2.3 million patients aged 65 and older who were hospitalized through the emergency department, researchers compared resource use by those with an alcohol-related diagnosis and those with other diagnoses. Analyses were adjusted for age, sex, comorbidities, and geographical location.

  • Admissions with primary alcohol-related diagnoses, compared with other admissions, were significantly less costly (by $2172) but associated with longer stays (by 0.3 days).
  • Admissions with secondary alcohol-related diagnoses* were both more costly (126% to 343% higher charges) and associated with longer stays (37% to 119% longer).


Admissions with primary alcohol-related diagnoses may have been less costly because they generally require less sophisticated procedures than do many other admissions. The second finding, in particular, suggests that unhealthy alcohol use, which is underdetected in medical settings, is an important source of comorbidity and higher costs among hospitalized seniors. Future research should examine the extent to which screening and intervention of older adults can prevent these higher costs.

Peter D. Friedmann, MD, MPH
*Those associated with the 10 most common International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification Clinical Classifications Software primary diagnoses


Saleh SS, Szebenyi SE. Resource use of elderly emergency department patients with alcohol-related diagnoses. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2005;29(4):313–319.