About 15 percent of surgeons have alcohol abuse or dependency problems, a rate that is somewhat higher than the rest of the population, according to a new survey.
The researchers also found that surgeons who showed signs of alcoholism were 45 percent more likely to admit that they had a major medical error in the past three months.
“Surgery is a stressful business. There are people who turn to alcohol to help deal with their stress,” said Dr. Edward Livingston, a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, who was not involved in the study.
“Does that affect their performance? Who knows?” he said.
The researchers, led by Dr. Michael Oreskovich at the University of Washington, sent out a survey to more than 25,000 surgeons.
The questions asked about work, lifestyle and mood, and several were used to screen for alcohol abuse or dependency.
- In 2005 the total cost of alcohol dependence to the U.S. economy was $220 billion.
- The cost to business of alcohol problems is $186 billion a year (on average).
- The total cost to society of teenage drinking is about $52.8 billion.
- Treating alcoholism and its effects on health, costs more than treating cancer.
- Addiction costs every American citizen $1000 per year.
- 4 in 10 prisoners say drink was a factor in their crime.
- Alcohol is the number one drug problem in America and the U.K.
- One-third of all suicides, one-half of all murders, one-half of domestic violence cases and one-quarter of all emergency hospital admissions are alcohol related.
Overall, 15 percent of surgeons showed signs of alcohol problems. Other studies have estimated that, among the general population, the number is about nine percent.
The study did not determine why alcohol problems might be more common among surgeons.
Oreskovich’s results showed that alcohol problems were linked with the doctors reporting depression and burnout as well.
In the 2002 World Health Report, the World Health Organisation estimated that globally 1.8 million people’s deaths every year are directly attributable to alcohol consumption. Moreover, it has been proven that a country’s drinking levels directly parallel the level of harm caused, ie the more a country drinks, the more alcohol-related harm occurs.
The UK is one of the top ten in the world for alcohol consumption per head of population and alcohol abuse is clearly escalating. The Office for National Statistics reported in November 2006 that the alcohol related death rate in the UK doubled from 4,144 deaths in 1991 to 8,386 deaths in 2005.
The death rate may be broken down by gender, with studies indicating that alcohol related death rates are much higher in males. The gap between female and male death rates is increasing and in 2005 the rate was more than twice that of females with males accounting for more than two thirds of the total alcohol related deaths. Those living in deprived areas have a much greater risk of an alcohol related death.
Alcohol abuse, as a cause of death in the UK, has been estimated at 8000 – 40,000 annually, according to the IAS. The lower figure constitutes deaths caused by alcohol defined causes such as chronic liver disease. The upper figure is an estimate of all other deaths in which alcohol has contributed but is not alcohol defined, such as falls, suicide and motor vehicle accidents.
Even within the various fields of medicine, surgery is considered particularly demanding.
“The nature of the beast is that the percent of emergencies, the percent of after hours work, and actual scheduled work itself all require an energy and concentration that is really different than a lot of the other specialties,” Oreskovich said.