No matter how experienced the surgeon, a study found that after a night of drinking, surgeons’ skills were subpar well into the following day. In the April issue of Archives of Surgery, a small study found that the skills of experienced laparoscopic surgeons remained impaired as late as 4pm the next day following a night of binge drinking.

According to researchers, surgeons’ performance declined significantly from baseline with respect to the time to complete a test in a virtual reality training system, economy of diathermy use, and error scores.

This may be of particular concern when it comes to laparoscopic surgery because laparoscopic techniques rely heavily on cognitive, perceptual, and visuospatial abilities—skills vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.

In the study, researchers tested surgeons randomized to abstain from alcohol or to consume alcohol until subjectively intoxicated. The test was composed of 6 increasingly complex tasks that are commonly performed by laparoscopic surgeons—and the test was conducted three times throughout the day: 9am, 1pm, and 4pm. The alcohol group registered significantly worse performance on diathermy and made significantly more errors. Compared to baseline test results, surgeons who consumed alcohol made more errors at all three test times—the difference reaching statistical significance only at 1 pm.

There are no rules or guidelines to govern the consumption of alcohol the night before surgical responsibilities, even though alcohol consumption has widely recognized effects on performance across multiple jobs and specialties.