Severe alcohol intoxication among Canadian Youth: A 2-year surveillance study

To obtain data on Canadian youth, aged 11 to 15 years, presenting to paediatric emergency departments, with severe alcohol intoxication and to describe demographics, presentations to hospital, concurrent substance use, comorbidities, and short-term outcomes of admission to emergency departments.

Between March 2013 and February 2015, through the established methodology of the Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program, Canadian paediatricians and paediatric subspecialists were surveyed monthly to identify cases of young adolescents presenting to paediatric emergency departments across Canada with severe alcohol intoxication. Those that identified cases were subsequently sent a detailed questionnaire. The detailed questionnaires were then screened to ensure the reported cases met the study’s inclusion criteria.

A total of 39 cases (18 females and 21 males) were included in the final analysis. Overall, results indicate over 90% of presenting youth had consumed spirits, 39% had concurrent substance use and 46% experienced serious medical morbidity. Almost two-thirds of youth were admitted to hospital for a period ranging from 10 hours to 5 days; 12 youth required intubation. Follow-up referrals were provided to two-thirds of youth, with variable supports given. No statistically significant differences between sexes were noted for blood alcohol level or concurrent substance use.

Although rates of alcohol use in adolescents have been steadily decreasing, results from this surveillance study suggest that severe intoxication arising from the use of alcohol alone, and with concurrent substance use, results in significant immediate health consequences in young adolescents. Results from this study also highlight characteristics of patients, initial treatments and initial referrals across Canadian paediatric healthcare facilities, the results of which highlight variability and may aid in the guidance of a future longitudinal study, prevention strategies, and public health messaging.

Lead Researchers

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  1. Mark Norris

    Investigator, CHEO Research Institute

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