Survey: 15% of surgeons struggle with alcohol misuse

Alcohol issues more prevalent among women than men

Topics: Surgery, Service Lines, Health and Wellness, Benefits, Labor Expense, Workforce

February 23, 2012

About 15% of surgeons report having an alcohol use disorder, according to a new national survey published in the Archives of Surgery.

Researchers examined online, anonymous surveys completed in 2010 by members of the American College of Surgeons. More than 25,000 surveys were emailed to participating members, and about 7,200 surgeons (29%) responded.

According to the results:

  • 1,112 surgeons—or roughly 15%—reported drinking behaviors that suggest alcohol abuse or dependence.
  • Specifically, about 26% of female surgeons and 14% of male surgeons reported such behaviors.

Surgeons who reported alcohol misuse also were more likely to report a major medical mistake in the last three months, as well as feelings of depression and burnout. However, lead author Michael Oreskovich, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, notes that "a number of studies have shown that direct patient harm associated with impairment due to chemical dependency is very, very rare."

According to the study authors, the findings suggest that a proactive approach is needed "to identify and treat a prevalent disorder that may affect the surgeon's ability to practice with skill and safety."

In an accompanying editorial, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center's Edward Livingston and JAMA's Joseph Wislar note that "[n]onresponse bias is particularly salient when the topic is considered sensitive and the respondents would prefer to not discuss such matters." They add, "Surgeons who drink more heavily are potentially less likely to respond, which might underestimate the prevalence of alcohol abuse" (Mozes, HealthDay, 2/20; Fiore, MedPage Today, 2/20).

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