Combining Alcohol and Drugs

Combining Alcohol and Drugs

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that 17.5 percent of underage drinkers admitted to having used illicit drugs within 2 hours of using alcohol. When drugs and alcohol are combined, the result is often a visit to the emergency department. Healthcare professionals have an opportunity during that visit to intervene and educate the young person about the dangers of combining alcohol and drugs.

Using alcohol and drugs together can result in very dangerous consequences, such as injury or risky sexual behavior. It is important to understand the trends occurring among adolescents related to alcohol and drug use, and the Drug Abuse Warning Network provides reports detailing emergency department visits involving drug use.

Recently DAWN released a report for the 2008 emergency department visits involving underage drinking in combination with drug use. The report focuses on emergency visits by individuals under the legal age of 21, including adolescents aged 12 to 17 and young adults aged 18 to 20.

There were 188,981 alcohol-related emergency department visits by individuals aged 12 to 20 in 2008, with 70.0 percent involving only alcohol and 30.0 percent involving alcohol in combination with other drugs. Illicit drugs were used in 68.4 percent of those visits that involved both alcohol and drugs. Marijuana was the most common illicit drug used, followed by cocaine, illicit stimulants and heroin.

Over half of the cases involved pharmaceutical drugs, and of those drugs, medications used to treat anxiety or insomnia were the most widely used, followed by narcotic pain relievers, antidepressants or antipsychotics and acetaminophen products.

The report indicates that there was little difference indicated between genders or age groups regarding emergency department visits involving a combination of drugs and alcohol. There was also little difference seen between different racial groups.

Many underage patients who were treated in the emergency department require additional treatment. However, the DAWN report showed that nearly two thirds of cases showed no evidence of any type of follow-up care. There was more evidence of follow-up care among adolescents aged 12 to 17 than there was for young adults aged 18 to 20.

The report released by DAWN for 2008 shows that 3 out of every 10 emergency department visits made by underage drinkers also involved drugs. The emergency department can be the only chance for prevention and education strategies to be introduced to underage drinkers.

The lack of difference between age, gender and race indicate that a general intervention program may be just as effective as targeting particular individuals. The emergency department is also an ideal time for educating parents about the importance of involvement with their children’s decisions about drinking and drugs.

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