Operating Under The Influence?

15% Of Surgeons Have Alcohol Abuse Problems

According to a new survey, about 15 percent of surgeons have an alcohol abuse or dependency problem.

A team of researchers, led by Dr. Michael Oreskovich at the University of Washington, surveyed over 7,200 surgeons, asking questions about work, lifestyle and mood, and several were used to screen for alcohol abuse or dependency.

The researchers found that about 15 percent of surgeons showed signs of alcohol problems.  About 14 percent of male surgeons and 25 percent of female surgeons were determined to have alcohol problems.

The results showed that alcohol problems were linked with doctors reporting depression and being burned out of the job as well.

The team reports that surgeons with alcohol abuse or dependence accounted for 77 percent of surgeons who reported a medical error in the previous three months.

Oreskovich said the pressure that comes from being a surgeon can be overwhelming compared to other medical fields.

“The nature of the beast is that the percent of emergencies, the percent of afterhours work, and actual scheduled work itself all require an energy and concentration that is really different than a lot of the other specialties,” Oreskovich told Reuters.

Although the researchers did not give reasons as to why female surgeons are more prone to alcohol abuse than males, Oreskovich told Reuters that the stress of being a surgeon “is much more prevalent” in female surgeons.

Dr. Edward Livingston, a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, told Reuters that one of the problems with the survey is that it had a low response rate.

The researchers queried 25,000 surgeons for the survey, but only received a response for the 7,200 surgeons.

“If you have a low response rate, you don’t know if it represents the universe of people you’re trying to study,” he told Reuters Health.

He said it is possible the percent of surgeons with alcoholism is underestimated in this study, because they may have not responded to it due to shame and guilt, or for fear associated with their alcohol problems.

The study is published in the medical journal Archives of Surgery.

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