To estimate the relationship between current drinking patterns and health care utilization over the previous two years in a managed care organization (MCO) among individuals who were screened for their alcohol use.
Three primary care clinics at a large western MCO administered a short health and lifestyle questionnaire to all adult patients on their first visit to the clinic from March 1998 through December 1998. Patients who exceeded the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) guidelines for moderate drinking were given a more comprehensive alcohol screening using a modified version of the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). Health care encounter data for two years preceding the screening visit were linked to the remaining individuals who responded to one or both instruments. Using both quantity–frequency and AUDIT‐based drinking pattern variables, we estimated negative binomial models of the relationship between drinking patterns and days of health care use, controlling for demographic characteristics and other variables.
For both the quantity–frequency and AUDIT‐based drinking pattern variables, current alcohol use is generally associated with less health care utilization relative to abstainers. This relationship holds even for heavier drinkers, although the differences are not always statistically significant. With some exceptions, the overall trend is that more extensive drinking patterns are associated with lower health care use.
Based on our sample, we find little evidence that alcohol use is associated with increased health care utilization. On the contrary, we find that alcohol use is generally associated with decreased health care utilization regardless of drinking pattern.