Nearly a quarter of people presenting to emergency department with alcohol issues aged over 55, NZ study suggests

Alcohol harm is becoming increasingly prevalent in older Kiwis, a new University of Otago study suggests. 

Nearly 24 percent of adults who reported to an emergency department with alcohol issues in 2022 were aged over 55 - having increased from 11.6 percent in 2013, according to the study of 412 Christchurch Hospital patients. 

Alcohol harm was most common among those in the 25-24 age bracket, up from 29.9 percent in 2013 to 40.1 percent in 2022, the researchers reported in the New Zealand Medical Journal. 

Although media attention often focused on young people binge drinking, this study didn't reflect those images, said Laura Joyce, a senior lecturer in emergency medicine at the University of Otago and lead researcher. 

"Our findings are in line with other research showing that over one-third of older New Zealanders are drinking at levels that may result in harm," Dr Joyce said in a statement. 

"This is concerning, as people in this age group are more likely to have additional co-morbidities and the potential for medication interactions. 

"Alcohol-related presentations are preventable, contribute to ED overcrowding, impact other patients requiring care, put considerable stress on hospital staff and resources, and place a high financial burden on the entire health system," she added. 

Presentations were on the fall among young adults, the study team noted. From 2013 to 2022, the proportion of people aged under 25 presenting to ED plunged to 19.3 percent from 33.6 percent. 

Binge-drinking was still common throughout society, the study said. 

Two-thirds of those consumed the alcohol that led to their ED presentation in their own home, the research also found. 

"We feel this highlights the need for stronger local alcohol policies for off-license venues, particularly seeing they are a key supplier of large quantities of cheap alcohol and contribute to New Zealand's drinking culture as a whole," Dr Joyce said. 

"Excess of alcohol as a reason for presentation to the Christchurch ED in our study rose, from just over 5 percent in 2013 to 11 percent in 2022. 

"Implementation of evidence-based alcohol policies is urgently needed to reduce the impact of alcohol in the ED and improve the health of our communities."