A gin and tonic after a long day can be a soothing way to unwind, having some beers with some friends while you watch the game is good fun, and sampling wines at a winery can make for a romantic outing. Recently, we’ve even learned that drinking in moderation (approximately one drink a day) appears to be healthier than heavier drinking or even complete alcohol abstinence. Unfortunately, despite the pleasurable effects of healthy use of alcohol, frequent consumption is notorious for greatly increasing the likelihood of work burnout and depression. Physicians already battle heavy doses of stress from their profession and furthermore, we all know the health implications associated with after prolonged alcohol use. Members of the medical community are highly respected and assumed by most to abstain from risky behaviors involving alcohol. But…medical doctors are humans, too; they are not immune from addiction or mental issues. Despite physicians frequently warning their patients of the dangers of hitting the bottle, how many physicians don’t actually practice what they preach?
According to the Harvard Medical Publication, “1 in 10 physicians develop problems with drugs or alcohol at some point during their careers.”
Dr. Michael Oreskovich, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, surveyed 25,000 surgeons in 2012 about their lifestyles, habits, and work life to gain insight into the detailed use of alcohol by members of the medical community. The survey showed that about 14% of male surgeons and roughly 25% of female surgeons showed signs of possible alcohol problems (about 1/6th of surgeons.) The results of Oreskovich‘s research, showed that the participants that appeared to abuse alcohol, based on questions asked, were also 45% more likely to admit that they had made a large mistake at work within the past 3 months. Additionally, among the 722 that admitted to large error at work, 77% fell into the category of surgeons who showed signs of heavy alcohol use. However, his survey found that surgeons with children and “on-call” work schedules were less likely than others in the field to have issues involving alcohol. However, due to the fact the survey was so small, it is unclear how common drinking really is among surgeons. Additionally, on the other hand, the numbers may even be underrepresented due to the embarrassment physicians may feel admitting true drinking habits.
Despite the questionable accuracy of the results, it still conquers many worrisome questions. How many physicians abuse alcohol? How does alcohol affect medical professions?
Whats even more troubling from Oreskovich‘s study is that among the physicians who participated, the prevalence of drinking among surgeons was the highest compared to doctors in different specialties. Alcohol overuse can impair an individual’s physical and mental well-being, and for members of the medical community that have precision and tasks that involve heavy concentration. Alcohol overuse over a long period of time is known to cause nerve damage which may cause shaking of the hands. In a profession requiring procedures to be executed, steadiness is crucial. Therefore alcohol use among licensed surgeons is especially risky compared to careers in different specialties.
Another problem in the medical profession involving alcohol use is the reluctance of doctors to report themselves or colleagues. Fear of jeopardizing their career might account for the 2002 study released that found that although 95% of physicians claimed they would intervene if noticing an impaired co-worker, but only two-thirds admitted that they would do anything besides talking to them in private. Indicators of co-workers that may be struggling with alcohol abuse include common absences/missing deadlines, drinking a lot at work functions/on free-time, increased mood swings/irritability, and problems in home life such as marriage problems.
What would you do if you felt that a co-worker was battling with alcoholism?