Alcohol Involved in Half of Recreational Poisonings

Kate Chitty PhD Postdoctoral Research Fellow Sydney Medical School School of Medical Sciences Pharmacology The University of Sydney

Dr. Kate Chitty Interview with:
Kate Chitty PhD
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Sydney Medical School
School of Medical Sciences
The University of Sydney 

Medical Research: What is the background for this study?

Dr. Chitty: Recreational poisonings, defined here as poisonings that occur as a result of using alcohol and/or illicit or prescribed drugs for recreational purposes or to induce acute rewarding psychoactive effects, represent a significant and potentially lethal form of harm attributed to drug use. There is limited information on hospital admissions for recreational poisonings separately from all hospital admissions for drug harms, despite a surge in overdose occurring at youth events. Identifying trends in recreational poisoning will enable better planning of drug and alcohol services and government initiatives to reduce harms and consequences associated with drug and alcohol use.

Medical Research: What are the main findings?

Dr. Chitty: The study found that 9% of all poisoning admissions were a result of the recreational use of alcohol and/or recreational drugs. Not surprisingly, recreational poisonings were more likely to occur in males than females, and in patients under the age of 30 compared to their older counterparts. Hospital presentations for recreational poisonings, compared to other types of poisoning admissions, were more likely to occur in the early hours of the morning and on the weekend. The report found that while stimulants were the drug class most commonly presented in recreational poisonings, the legal drug, alcohol, was the most common co-ingested substance.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Chitty: The finding that alcohol was the most common co-ingested substance and was involved in almost half of all recreational poisonings appears to support the view of alcohol as a “gateway drug”. This is the belief that the use of alcohol acts as a gateway for the use and abuse of illicit substances. This is important in the context of youth events, where much emphasis is placed on the restriction of illicit drugs brought into the event, whereas once inside, the distribution and sale of alcohol is free-flowing and widely accessible. If use of alcohol does indeed promote the use of other drugs this highlights the importance of regulating alcohol, as well as illicit drugs, at such events. Furthermore, that we see recreational poisoning patterns most commonly in young people highlights that these potentially life-threatening hospital admissions are not only the result of years of drug abuse but are largely associated with binge behaviour considered ‘normal’ by many of today’s youth.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Chitty: Future studies should focus on the extent to which intoxication, and as such impaired decision-making and impulsive behaviour, leads to the decision to take (and overuse) illicit substances.  Furthermore, an investigation into the changes in drug toxicity associated with alcohol co-ingestion is necessary. That is, whether alcohol interacts biologically with illicit substances to cause a higher level of poisoning.


Drug Alcohol Depend. 2015 Dec 11. pii: S0376-8716(15)01808-6. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.11.038. [Epub ahead of print]

Trends in recreational poisoning in Newcastle, Australia, between 1996 and 2013.

Chitty KM1, Osborne NJ2, Cairns R3, Dawson AH2, Buckley NA2.

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Kate Chitty PhD (2016). Alcohol Involved in Half of Recreational Poisonings 

Last Updated on January 6, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD