Blog | Friday, November 21, 2008

Drinking and doctoring


In conjunction with a conference on doctors' health, the new issue of BMJ assesses phyisicians' (sometimes problematic) relationships with alcohol.

Two studies assessed the results of physician-specific substance abuse treatment programs in the U.S. and Canada and concluded that they were fairly successful, since 75% and 85% of the participating docs, respectively, were practicing and staying clean at 5 years. Less happily, the U.S. study found that physicians who didn't complete their treatment programs were much more likely to die (with 6 of the 22 in-treatment deaths caused by suicide) or lose their licenses.

Another study in the issue looked at the potential roots of these substance abuse problems, by analyzing the drinking habits of med students. Although they drink less than their nonmedical peers, U.S. students do find time to knock them back--24% of female and 43% of male students reported excessive drinking in the past month (random fact: non-primary-care-track students drank more than future PCPs).

Why does it matter? The students' habits could have effects on public health as well, the study found. Not surprisingly, the drinkers weren't eager to throw stones in their glass houses and were less likely than non-imbibers to counsel patients about alcohol use. Despite the findings, study authors were pretty moderate in their recommended actions: "Medical schools should consider...discouraging excessive drinking," they concluded. Better get that keg out of the lab.