Recent Study Questions if Problematic Alcohol Use Increasing Among Physicians

27 Dec, 2022 F.J. Thomas


Sarasota, FL ( – Earlier this year, the US Surgeon General sounded the alarm with an advisory for the need to address mental health issues and burnout in healthcare workers. A recent study on alcohol use published earlier this month in JAMA Network Open gives further pause for concern as problematic use among physicians could be on the rise. 

Researchers from the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada reviewed 31 alcohol use studies and surveys from 2006 to 2020. The studies used were peer-reviewed, and questionnaire reporting was measured with the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), AUDIT Version C (AUDIT-C) for alcohol use screening. Problematic alcohol use included classifications such as hazardous, potentially hazardous, risky, at-risk, harmful, alcohol dependence, and the number of drinks. 

The review included 51,680 physicians and medical residents from 17 counties. The number of participants for each study ranged from 36 to 7,288. Europe included 16 studies, the U.S. included 8 studies, and Africa included 2 studies. Brazil, Lebanon, and the Fiji islands all included 1 study each. Eight studies included single specialty participants, and 7 studies did not report specialties. Sixteen studies included a variety of specialties. Twelve studies included only fully trained physicians, and 7 studies only included residents. Seven studies did not include the level of participant training, and 5 studies included varying stages of careers. 

While the researchers stated there were large variables in response rates and the thresholds for problematic use, they noted the highest use among males aged 25 to 34. Additionally, their results suggested that problematic alcohol use could be higher in physicians compared to the general population due to physicians being at increased risk of anxiety and depression. 

The researchers noted a significant increase overall in problematic alcohol use in physicians over the last 15 years, increasing from 16.3 percent to 26.8 percent. From 2001 to 2012, the researchers estimated a 57.9 percent increase in the prevalence of high-risk drinking in women physicians and noted that there were drastic differences by geographic location. By comparison, the increase among male physicians was 15.5 percent during the same timeframe. While the increases were highlighted, the researchers could not speculate on whether the increase was accurate or whether it was caused by increased transparency due to change in culture. 

Historically, physicians have been guarded on sharing the level of problematic alcohol use due to the potential of disciplinary actions. Previous to this study, the majority of information gained about problematic alcohol use in physicians was gleaned from licensing and disciplinary actions, legal records, mortality rates, hospital admissions and treatment populations, and selected small surveys. Researchers pointed out that self-reported alcohol consumption accounts for only 40 to 60 percent of total alcohol sales in the general population and speculate that the surveys could actually be an under representation. 


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    About The Author

    • F.J. Thomas

      F.J. Thomas has worked in healthcare business for more than fifteen years in Tennessee. Her experience as a contract appeals analyst has given her an intimate grasp of the inner workings of both the provider and insurance world. Knowing first hand that the industry is constantly changing, she strives to find resources and information you can use.

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