Surgeons and Alcohol Dependency

A new survey published in the February 2012 issues of Archives of Surgery notes that a little more than 15% of surgeons responding to the survery admitted to an alcohol dependency problem. Now, the research was limited to the survey pool which was admittedly small. According to Medical Daily, “Researchers conducted an anonymous survey consisting of over 25,000 surgeons about their work, lifestyle, and mood, and while only 7,197 of them completed the survey 1,112 met the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test.” Furthermore, no correlation was made concerning the admission of alcohol dependency and medical errors. However, surgeons, unlike other professionals, are not routinely screened for alcohol use or abuse.
The authors of the study were cautious in making sweeping generalizations about the entire surgical community, “Dr. Edward Livingston, a professor of surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and Joseph Wislar of the Journal of the American Medical Association wrote in an accompanying editorial that because there was a low response rate to the survey conducted, it would be unfair to say that the findings applied to all surgeons.
However they noted that the lack of responses could also be worrying.
“Nonresponse bias is particularly salient when the topic is considered sensitive and the respondents would prefer to not discuss such matters,” they wrote. “Surgeons who drink more heavily are potentially less likely to respond, which might underestimate the prevalence of alcohol abuse.”
Therefore, the survey “may not accurately reflect the true incidence of alcoholism among surgeons.
The survey’s authors did conclude that “aloohol abuse and dependence is a significant problem in US surgeons. Organizational approaches for the early identification of problematic alcohol consumption followed by intervention and treatment where indicated should be strongly supported.”