Alcohol abuse and dependence appears to be a significant problem among surgeons in the United States, according to a national survey published this month in Archives of Surgery.

The online, anonymous poll completed by nearly 7,200 surgeons found that 15% of surgeons appear to suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence, based on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, version C.  Nearly 14% of male surgeons and 26% of female surgeons had a score consistent with the disorder. These stats exceed the alcohol abuse rates (8% to 12%) typically cited among the general public.

While alcohol abuse rates may be significant, studies have shown that direct patient harm associated with impairment due to chemical dependency in surgeons is extremely rare.

Overall, alcohol abuse or dependence were less prevalent among male surgeons, as well as among those who were older, had children, worked longer hours, were more often “on call” or were employed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The emotional exhaustion and depersonalization domains of burnout were strongly associated with alcohol abuse or dependence.

Physician’s Weekly wants to know… Should surgeons undergo random alcohol and drug screenings as do other safety-sensitive professions? What systems should be put in place to support surgeons who may be suffering from burnout?