Work Stress Takes a Toll on Physicians’ Health

Jul 03, 2019

The fallout from burnout: alcohol dependence, binge eating, sleep disorders, and general ill health.

RESEARCH UPDATE

Is work stress driving doctors to drink? A survey of British physicians found that 44% binge drink (consume six or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion) and 5% meet the criteria for alcohol dependence.1 The findings were recently published in BMJ Open.

The survey was conducted to examine the effects of occupational distress (including burnout, depression, and maladaptive coping strategies) on substance abuse and other health problems. Researchers analyzed data from 417 physicians in the United Kingdom. The mean age of the participants was 47 years, and 52% were women.

“Our research shows that 55% of doctors have burnout, and this has real health consequences,” said study author Caroline Kamau, PhD, at Birkbeck, University of London, UK.

About 34% of physicians in the survey reported that they drank alcohol to cope with work-related stress, and 22% used substances to deal with stressful events. Less experienced physicians and those who worked in hospitals were more likely to engage in binge drinking. Binge eating was another coping strategy reported by physicians: up to 29% experienced negative emotions after overeating and 8% had a binge eating disorder.

Burnout was a significant predictor of sleep disorders (odds ratio ≥1.344; P≤.03). Overall, 12% of physicians in the survey reported insomnia. Work stress also contributed to general ill health, including fatigue, nausea, headache, heartburn, eye strain, diarrhea, and tinnitus, but not back pain, in this study.

“Work-related stress is often ignored as not being a priority, but our research shows that stress among doctors is associated with health problems and risky health behaviors like alcohol use. Stress can no longer be ignored because it can lead to doctors suffering severe health problems,” said study author Asta Medisauskaite, PhD, at University College London in the UK.

This article was originally published 5/16/19 and has since been updated.

References:

1. Medisauskaite A, Kamau C. Does occupational distress raise the risk of alcohol use, binge-eating, ill health and sleep problems among medical doctors? A UK cross-sectional study. BMJ Open. 2019;9:e027362. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-027362

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