Survey Finds 15 Percent of U.S. Surgeons Report Having Drinking Problems

Survey Finds 15 Percent of U.S. Surgeons Report Having Drinking ProblemsA new national survey has found that alcohol use disorders have become a major problem among U.S. surgeons, HealthDay reports.

The results of an anonymous poll showed that 15 percent of surgeons appear to suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence, with nearly 14 percent of male surgeons suffering from the conditions and about 26 percent of female surgeons suffering from it. The numbers exceeded the 8 percent to 12 percent of alcohol abuse rates normally cited, on average, for the public. The study was published in this month's issue of Archives of Surgery.

According to the National Library of Medicine, alcohol abuse occurs when drinking leads to other problems, but not a physical addiction. Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism, occurs when signs of physical addiction arise, and affects physical and mental health.

Survey lead author Dr. Michael Oreskovich, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, stated that it still should be noted that direct patient harm caused by impairment is rare, with the chance of a surgeons operating under the influence and causing damage at about one in 10,000.

"However, the findings do beg the question as to why it is that every other safety-sensitive profession has random drug screenings, while surgeons do not," Oreskovich added. "Some anesthesiologists are finally undergoing this – pre-employment drug screens, for-cause drug screens and random drug screens – for the same reasons. And although it may not be a popular statement, there's no reason other interventionists involved in a high-risk practice should not be tested."

Investigators taking part in the study analyzed surveys completed by doctors from the across the nation who were a part of the American College of Surgeons. Of the nearly 7,200 respondents, the team focused on the 1,112 surgeons, or 15 percent, who stated their drinking had become abusive or turned into dependence.

The study showed surgeons who had made a major medical error in the previous three months were more likely to have a drinking problem.

"Doing this study to find out where we're at is truly remarkable for an organization like the American College of Surgeons," Oreskovich said. "This may very well be an even bigger problem than the numbers now indicate, because many surgeons may not have completed the survey or [not] completed it honestly out of shame, guilt and fear."