Alcohol Use Disorder: A Crisis in Plain Sight

Seemingly every day, we hear tragic stories detailing the opioid crisis in cities and towns throughout Massachusetts. This epidemic has had a devastating effect on individuals, their families, and our communities. 

However, another equally devastating crisis is hidden in plain sight: Alcohol addiction.

At South Shore Hospital, we’ve found that alcohol use disorders bring in more patients into our Emergency Department than do opioids. 

The numbers: 

  • Out of the more than 3,800 patients that Behavioral Health practitioners have seen in the ED this year, 30 percent of those patients were there for an alcohol-related disorder.
  • Only 10 percent of patients were seen for substance use disorders not related to alcohol.  
  • This past July, 177 patients with alcohol-related conditions were seen in the ED, compared to 37 overdose patients. 

And not only are there more patients with alcohol use disorders—they are more likely to be hospitalized and stay longer.

“This large volume of patients has much longer lengths of stay while in the ED and often have prolonged ICU stays,” says Dr. Jason Tracy, Chair of Emergency Medicine at South Shore Health.

“Our rate of inpatient admission is much higher for patients dealing with alcohol abuse,” says Danielle Finerty, LICSW, who works in South Shore Hospital’s ED. “We’re seeing a lot more people who need to be admitted for management of acute alcohol withdrawal, alcohol-related traumas, and other alcohol-related medical issues, such as liver failure and pancreatitis.” 

The good news in all of these dire statistics? There is help and hope for these individuals who come to the ED each day. South Shore Hospital has the resources in place to assist patients struggling with alcohol use disorders in finding the treatment they need. Finerty helps refer patients to treatment when they come in with substance- or alcohol-related issues. 

Her colleague, Melanie Miller, works on the inpatient side with these patients. Both Danielle and Melanie take calls from the local community, whether it’s a primary care physician looking for resources for his or her patient or a loved one concerned about a family member or friend’s alcohol use. 

“Monday through Friday, those calls get patched into Melanie and I, but 24 hours a day, 365 days a year we have on-call recovery coaches through Bay State Community Services,” says Danielle. “They work with patients and find them treatment, make the proper referrals to go to detox or other treatment, and follow up with patients in the community.” 

“If someone comes in looking for help with their alcohol abuse but isn’t ready for treatment, these coaches follow up with them later and continue discussions,” says Danielle. Three nights a week, there’s also a recovery coach from Gosnold, Inc., an addiction and mental health facility, embedded in the ED who works with patients. These coaches help anyone with a substance use disorder. 

Treatment options vary—from a residential treatment facility, a detox center, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, or medication-assisted treatment. Danielle and her colleagues can link a patient with a primary care physician in an area clinic, therapy, or a case manager who can provide support.

“We can refer the patient to these services in their communities, so they can get the support they need and avoid coming to the hospital,” she says. 

If you or someone you know struggles with a substance use disorder, help is available. For non-emergency situations, here are three organizations that do great work: The Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline; the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Hotline; and locally, A New Way Recovery Center, located in Quincy.