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Acad Emerg Med. 2017 Sep;24(9):1060-1071. doi: 10.1111/acem.13219. Epub 2017 Aug 8.

Utilization of a Sobering Center for Acute Alcohol Intoxication.

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School of Nursing, Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences, University of California at San Francisco, San Francisco, CA.
The Alcohol Research Group, Emeryville, CA.
Department of Public Health Sciences, Division of Prevention Science & Community Health, University of Miami Health System, Miami, FL.
The Institute for Health & Aging, University of California at San Francisco, San Francisco, CA.



The objective was to describe the population utilizing a sobering center for public alcohol intoxication and compare between single-visit users, repeat users, and high users.


We conducted a secondary analysis of 1,271 adults cared for in a sobering center from July 2014 to June 2015. We divided the population into three groups-single use (one visit), repeat users (two to five visits), and high (six or more) users-and evaluated demographics, lifetime health diagnoses utilizing the Elixhauser Comorbidity Index, rates of public service utilization including ambulance and emergency department, and related costs.


The population was primarily male, middle-aged, and ethnically diverse. Compared to single-visit users (n = 869), repeat (n = 287) and high users (n = 115) were older, were more likely to be currently homeless, and had spent more time homeless. Repeat and high users had significantly higher rates of hypertension, liver disease, diabetes, depression, psychoses, and drug abuse diagnoses compared to single-visit users. In addition to sobering visits, utilization of ambulance and ED and related costs were significantly greater for the high users compared to repeat and single-visit users.


From an overall heterogeneous population, more frequent utilizers of the sobering center, both high and repeat users compared to low users, had significantly greater prevalence of chronic disorders, service utilization, and homelessness. Findings indicate that a sobering center can have a prominent role in the care for those with acute alcohol intoxication, particularly those individuals with chronic public intoxication who are likewise homeless. Further longitudinal research could offer important insights as to the population served over time, investigating changes in utilization and efforts toward health and housing stabilization.

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