• alcohol drinking;
  • emergency service;
  • hospital;
  • rural health


Objective: This study measures the prevalence of problematic alcohol consumption in patients of EDs in rural areas of Australia, relative to the general population in the same rural communities. It also identifies the characteristics associated with risky drinking in rural ED patients.

Methods: Surveys containing the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and questions corresponding to the 2001 Australian Alcohol Guidelines were completed by 1056 patients presenting to five EDs in rural areas of New South Wales, and 756 residents of the same five communities.

Results: Relative to the general community, ED patients were statistically significantly more likely to engage in risky alcohol consumption according to the AUDIT (39% vs 20%), alcohol consumption posing a high risk of short-term harm (26% vs 18%) and alcohol consumption posing a high risk of long-term harm (7% vs 3%). Although being aged under 40 years of age, being unmarried, not completing school and being assigned less urgent triage categories were associated with risky alcohol use among ED patients, rates of risky consumption were high across all patient subgroups.

Conclusions: Risky drinking, across a number of measures, is overrepresented in patients of rural Australian EDs relative to the general community, and this type of consumption is not limited to certain subgroups of patients. There is a need for interventions that address both heavy single occasion drinking and excessive regular consumption in patients of rural Australian EDs, with universal interventions recommended rather than targeted programmes.