More and more people are being taken in at Leuven's emergency departments as a result of alcohol intoxication, including young people, but also those suffering from alcohol addiction.
Between 2008 and 2019, the number of people ending up in A&E with the condition, which is associated with drinking too much alcohol in a short period of time, has doubled, while in recent years on average five drunk patients are taken in by emergency departments of UZ Leuven and Heilig Hart Leuven every day.
As Leuven is predominantly a university town, a large chunk of the patients being treated for this condition are young people (teenagers and students). However, people aged between 40 and 59 years of age are equally as represented.
"Especially people in their fifties lead the pack with the highest number of intoxications in the past ten years," UZ Leuven's head of the emergency department, professor Sandra Verelst, told VRT News.
"The group of fifty-year-olds also has the highest alcohol values across all ages. They are often chronic drinkers."
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Although most of the patients (80%) are taken in on a one-off occasion, the hospitals are also noticing that some people come in several times as a result of intoxication, including one person who was taken in 46 times for drinking too much.
Aside from this posing a significant health risk to the people involved, it is also a heavy burden on personnel as a result of a problem that could be avoided.
We find that drunk patients often require increased supervision," Verelst explained. "Especially when sobering up, they can become very agitated: they pull out their liquid drip or try to leave early. We can't deploy emergency staff to supervise them in other places."
Staff in the emergency departments try to make the patient aware of the consequences of heavy drinking once they have sobered up. This is especially vital for young people, as people who report they started to drink at a young age are much more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is a commonly used measure of alcohol intoxication and ranges from a "normal state" at 0.001% to >0.50%, which can bring a high possibility of death.
This can often occur during binge drinking, a pattern of heavy drinking during which a person consumes four to five (or more) alcoholic drinks within two hours.