Objective — To compare changes in outpatient and acute care visits due to alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic between individuals with and those without a history of alcohol-related health service use (AHSU).
Methods — We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of health administrative data in Ontario, Canada. The Ontario population was stratified into those with and those without 1+ health service encounter(s) due to alcohol in the past 2 years. We compared age- and sex-standardized rates of alcohol-related outpatient visits, emergency department (ED) visits, and hospitalizations during the first 15 months of the pandemic (March 2020–May 2021) to those during the same 15-month period prior to the pandemic (March 2018–May 2019).
Results — Of 13,450,750 eligible Ontarians on March 11, 2022, 129,434 (1.0%) had AHSU in the previous 2 years. Overall, rates of alcohol-related outpatient visits and hospitalizations increased, while rates of alcohol-related ED visits decreased during the pandemic. There was a similar relative increase in rates of alcohol-related outpatient visits and hospitalizations between those with and those without prior AHSU. However, the absolute increase in rates of alcohol-related outpatient visits and hospitalizations was higher among those with prior AHSU (outpatient rate difference (RD) per 10,000 population: 852.3, 95% confidence interval (CI): 792.7, 911.9; inpatient RD: 26.0, 95% CI: −2.3, 54.2) than among those without (outpatient RD: 6.5, 95% CI: 6.0, 6.9; inpatient RD: 0.4, 95% CI: 0.2, 0.7).
Conclusion — Rates of alcohol-related outpatient and inpatient care increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, and high rate of recurrent harm among individuals with pre-pandemic AHSU was an important contributor to this trend.