Healthcare News & Insights

Survey finds more surgeons are abusing alcohol

A new study offers a disturbing glimpse into how many surgeons are abusing alcohol — and the effects that may have on their patients.

A new poll anonymously surveyed U.S. surgeons about their alcohol use. According to the results, 15% of surgeons seem to have an alcohol dependance and/or are abusing booze. Among women surgeons, the number was 26%.

That’s much higher than the rates of alcohol abuse among the general public — usually around 8% to 12%, depending on which study is being used.

The researchers included only respondents who indicated absolute dependence on alcohol to function in their final tally. Doctors who indicated run-of-the-mill unhealthy drinking behavior shy of a diagnostic criteria weren’t included.

Doctors who said they had made a significant medical mistake in the past three months were more likely to also indicate either an alcohol problem or a mental health issue such as depression or general “burn out.”

The surgeons who were least likely to indicate issues with alcohol dependence in their responses were men, those who were older or had children and those who worked longer hours or spent more time on call.

The good news, such as it is, is that the amount of actual harm done to patients because a surgeon was under the influence is rare. (Of course, if you or your loved one is the one in a million that’s hurt, those odds are of little comfort.) Nonetheless, the researchers suggested it’s worth asking if drug and alcohol screening for doctors in general and surgeons in particular should be used more often.

The survey results appear in the most recent issue of Archives of Surgery.

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