Alcohol Abuse Linked to Sepsis, Mortality in Critical Patients

COLUMBUS, Ohio – According to recent research, patients who abuse alcohol are less likely to survive critical illness.

Researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center studied the outcomes of over 11,000 critically ill patients admitted to the intensive care units of an urban hospital over six years. They found that patients with alcoholism or alcohol withdrawal were at a higher risk of having sepsis and septic shock and were more likely to die during hospitalization.

James M. O’Brien, M.D.
James M. O’Brien, M.D.

The findings will be published in February’s issue of the journal Critical Care Medicine and are currently available on the journal’s Web site.

The researchers found that alcohol dependence is independently associated with sepsis, septic shock and hospital mortality among intensive care patients, according to Dr. James O’Brien, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist at Ohio State University Medical Center and principal investigator of the study.

“After adjusting for other factors that may have played a role, we found that alcohol-dependent patients were 80 percent more likely to face sepsis and 75 percent more likely to develop septic shock than their non-alcoholic counterparts,” says O’Brien.

Sepsis, a systemic response to infection, can lead to organ failure, shock and death. Sepsis affects approximately 750,000 Americans yearly and kills more people than strokes, breast cancer and lung cancer combined.

“A better understanding of the mechanism of increased risk of sepsis for patients with alcohol dependence may help to define underlying causes of sepsis and sepsis-induced organ dysfunction and death. It appears that this effect is beyond that expected by an increased frequency of chronic health conditions, such as liver disease and cancer, associated with alcohol abuse syndromes,” O’Brien said.

Of the 11,651 patients involved in the study, one in eight had a diagnosis of alcohol dependence, including continuing alcoholism and/or alcohol withdrawal. These diagnoses were associated with higher rates of sepsis, organ failure, septic shock and hospital mortality. These patients also spent more time in the hospital and intensive care unit.

“As a public health concern, alcohol abuse has not received the same attention as tobacco misuse or abuse of illicit drugs. However, alcohol abuse syndromes lead to 85,000 deaths and a cost of $185 billion per year in the U.S.,” says O’Brien.

Researchers at Denver Health Medical Center participated in the study and it was the site for patient enrollment.

Along with O’Brien, other Ohio State researchers involved in the study were Scott Aberegg, Naeem Ali, Stanley Lemeshow, Bo Lu and Clay B. Marsh.

Funding from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, along with a Davis/Bremer Award from the Ohio State University College of Medicine, supported this research.