Looking at Alcohol Use Disorders Among Surgeons

The prevalence of substance use disorders in the United States has been well documented in published research. Nearly 8% to 12% of Americans aged 12 and older meet criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence, with men being twice as likely to depend upon or abuse alcohol as women. The prevalence of substance use disorders among U.S. physicians has been estimated to range from 10% to 15%, but less is known about alcohol dependence and abuse in particular. “Although actual injury to patients from impaired physicians is incredibly rare, alcohol abuse and dependence are important factors to consider when thinking about patient safety in surgery,” says Michael R. Oreskovich, MD. “These disorders can play a major role in causing clinically significant impairment or distress in social, occupational, and other areas of functioning.” Alcohol Use Disorder: A Problem for Surgeons Nationwide Dr. Oreskovich and colleagues conducted a study, published in the February 2012 Archives of Surgery, in which American surgeons completed online surveys anonymously. “We wanted to gain a better picture of the actual prevalence of alcohol dependence and abuse,” he says. “We also wanted to explore personal and professional characteristics, surgeon distress, and recent self-reported events.” According to the results, about 15% of respondents overall appeared to suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence, a figure that exceeds what has typically been cited for the general public. “Surprisingly, male surgeons were less likely to have these disorders than female surgeons,” Dr. Oreskovich says. “About 14% of male surgeons reported having alcohol issues, compared with a 26% rate that was observed for female surgeons.” In addition, the study found that alcohol issues...