The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of age-adjusted comorbidity and alcohol-based hand rub on monthly hospital antibiotic usage, retrospectively. A multivariate autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) model was built to relate the monthly use of all antibiotics grouped together with age-adjusted comorbidity and alcohol-based hand rub over a 5-year period (April 2005–March 2010). The results showed that monthly antibiotic use was positively related to the age-adjusted comorbidity index (concomitant effect, coefficient 1·103, P = 0·0002), and negatively related to the use of alcohol-based hand rub (2-month delay, coefficient −0·069, P = 0·0533). Alcohol-based hand rub is considered a modifiable factor and as such can be identified as a target for quality improvement programmes. Time-series analysis may provide a suitable methodology for identifying possible predictive variables that explain antibiotic use in healthcare settings. Future research should examine the relationship between infection control practices and antibiotic use, identify other infection control predictive factors for hospital antibiotic use, and evaluate the impact of enhancing different infection control practices on antibiotic use in a healthcare setting.