As much as 15 percent of surgeons have some kind of alcohol abuse problem, which may come as a shock to most people.
Doctors should know better, right? Alcoholism and physicians is a common combination. The rate of alcoholism among surgeons in particular is higher than in the general population, but why? And what are the consequences of having surgeons, whose patients’ lives are in their hands, struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction?
The Stress Of Surgery And Turning To Alcohol
Doctors generally are more likely to suffer from any kind of substance abuse than the general population. While it seems counterintuitive for someone who knows so much about health to engage in habits that are bad for health, there are some good reasons why this happens. Physicians work hard and they work long hours. Shifts that last for days and staying up all night are patterns that start in medical school. With little downtime, some physicians and medical students use that precious free time to get high or drunk.
Not only are hours long and often tedious, but the work most doctors do is stressful. Surgeons have one of the most stressful jobs there is. They are responsible for operating on people in life and death situations. Even when the surgery is supposed to be minor, mistakes can be devastating. It makes sense that with this high-stress lifestyle, many would turn to alcohol as a way to relax and cope. Drinking problems tend to fester too, because it’s hard for doctors to admit to having a problem that could cost them a license to practice medicine. Thankfully, physician recovery programs are designed to make admitting to a drinking problem easier.
Drinking And Surgical Errors
When a surgeon struggles with alcohol abuse, the patient could suffer dramatically. Among surgeons showing signs of alcoholism, nearly half admit to making major mistakes in patient care. A surgeon with alcoholism can make a mistake even if not under the influence while performing a surgery. An alcoholic in between drinks often suffers from withdrawal symptoms, which may include shakiness and impaired thinking. Some surgeons may even practice while intoxicated, feeling confident in the ability to hide intoxication.
Help For Alcoholic Surgeons
Asking for help as a doctor is not easy, especially if it might mean losing a job or medical license. Alcohol rehab for medical doctors is possible, though, and there are special statewide programs that are specifically designed to help doctors struggling with addiction. These programs are proving to be successful, and relapse rates for surgeons who go through them are lower than for regular rehab. Alcohol rehab centers for physicians focus on the specialized needs of doctors. They also serve the dual purpose of treating doctors and getting them back to work. Part of the success may come from the motivation to be able to work again.
Coping with stress is a skill that needs to be developed in doctors and medical students. With a high-stress work environment and a huge responsibility to care for patients, it’s no wonder surgeons often turn to alcohol to cope. If future surgeons could learn better ways to cope while in medical school, many mistakes could be avoided. In the meantime, physician health programs are helping to get these doctors back on their feet.
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